If not for the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday afternoon (!), the big story of the week would have been two United States Senate races in Georgia. One was said to have been a "special" election, but both are noteworthy enough. Democrats won both, giving the Democratic Party control of both houses of Congress.
Because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will become the president of the Senate on the afternoon of Jan. 20, she can break any 50-50 tie between the parties, much in the same way that former Veep Dick Cheney did during the first couple of months of the Bush II administration.
Speaking of which . . . .
It seems long ago, but some of us are old enough to remember the year 2000 and the election therein. You think 2020 was a close election? The election of 2000 gave us a 50-50 split of the Senate--for the first time. The Senate had been evenly divided before, but not since Alaska and Hawaii joined the Union. The 50-50 divide was unprecedented at the time. So Democrats demanded a kind of power-sharing agreement, and got it.
You might remember Trent Lott. He was the leader of Senate Republicans after the election: "We don't want a prescription for gridlock," he told the papers. "We cannot allow that. We have to extend the hand of friendship to our colleagues and try to find a way to get the substantive issues to the floor of the Senate."
So he extended the hand of friendship. Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democrats, grabbed it. According to archives, Sen. Daschle "hailed the agreement," even while Republican senators grumbled.
From our wire story of Jan. 5, 2001: "The full Senate agreed Friday to a blueprint for floor and committee procedures intended to even the chamber's partisan playing field, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Senators' approval was granted on a voice vote late Friday afternoon. The chamber's committees will now be split evenly among Democrats and Republicans--both parties occupy 50 seats in Congress' upper chamber--with Republicans retaining the chairmanships, but staffing and resources evenly divided."
That lasted until Jeff Jeffords, a Republican senator from Vermont (remember him?) left the GOP to caucus with the Democrats. Then all bets, and power-sharing, were off. Those were the post-hanging chad pre-9/11 days, when politics seemed important.
Flash forward to this past week when the chamber found itself tied again. Chuck Schumer of New York proclaimed himself majority leader. But curiously didn't say anything about sharing power or extending the hand of friendship to the other side:
"It feels like a brand-new day. For the first time in six years, Democrats will operate a majority in the United States Senate--and that will be very good for the American people."
He promised "bold changes" but not accommodation with the Republicans.
With another 50-50 Senate, this time with a Democratic vice president, the papers say the path to Joe Biden's agenda is easier. Confirmation of his Cabinet will go smoothly. More stimulus will be passed. His judicial nominations will be confirmed. But nowhere do we see the story about how power will be divided evenly between the parties.
That, apparently, only happens when there's a Republican vice president. We will check our cynicism when we read the first story about negotiations in the Senate in the coming weeks. But not until then.