Georgia On My Mind

Other arms will reach out to me
Other eyes smile tenderly
Still in peaceful dreams I see
The road leads back to you, yeah

Georgia is on my mind and on the minds of many others. The road, for the next two years at least, leads back to Georgia, where the winners of two Senate seats will be decided on January 5. With Republicans now holding 50 Senate seats and the Democrats holding 48, Georgia’s runoff election will decide who controls the Senate (since Vice President-elect Harris will preside and break a tie vote).

The progressive legislative agenda — ending the Senate filibuster; admitting two likely Democratic states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.; potentially enlarging the Supreme Court to alter its ideological balance; making federal court appointments and tax policy; the Iran agreement; the Green New Deal; and much more — all lie in the balance. Will Republican control of the Senate result in moderation of the more “progressive” Democratic agenda, or will Democratic control be the engine for it?

Voting absentee in Georgia has already begun. In-person voting begins December 14. Both parties are pouring funds into the two Senate races, and the polls show the candidates in both races basically even. So with the election so close and so much at stake, I find myself wondering where President-elect Joe Biden is. He went to Georgia during his presidential campaign. Why has he not gone again to rally the troops for the two Democrats seeking those Senate seats?

One possibility: he’s too busy pulling his administration together. Yes, Biden’s obviously busy, but one day of travel, especially with aides accompanying him and the power of technology, shouldn’t have much impact.

Another possibility: he’s planning to go but hasn’t announced it. Maybe. Incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain has said that he “expect[s] you’ll see the president-elect travel down there before election day,” but added that Biden would also be “trying to work with members of both parties to build consensus for actions …” Perhaps Biden will go to convince Georgians that he’s actually a moderate and that they should not be afraid of Democratic control of the Senate.

A third possibility: Biden’s perfectly happy with a divided Congress. He’s a deal maker and historically a moderate and not a dyed-in-the-wool progressive. Indeed, U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, first vice-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has already announced his opposition to the appointment of Michele Flournoy, who would be the first female secretary of defense, because Flournoy is a political moderate, has occasionally supported the use of our military abroad, called for limited military options such as long-range weapons to deter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia from bombing civilians and has ties to the defense industry. Perhaps a Republican-controlled Senate serves Biden’s own interest in moderation.

A fourth possibility: Biden doesn’t want to be embarrassed by going to Georgia in the event that the Democratic candidates lose. After all, Biden didn’t have coattails, or even much excitement, during his own campaign. The presidential election was far more a repudiation of President Trump than an endorsement of Mr. Biden. Notwithstanding his 6-million-plus vote margin in the presidential election, Republicans gained more than a dozen seats in the House of Representatives, kept control of all state legislatures in which they were the majority and gained control of both the New Hampshire Senate and House. Of the 35 Senate seats up for election, 23 were held by Republicans who, nevertheless, have so far had a net loss of only one seat. Eleven governorships were up for election: Republicans held all seven of their seats while gaining the governor’s office in Montana.

Further evidence of Biden’s lack of coattails are suggested by results in California. Although Biden carried California with 64% of the vote, the Republicans picked up one House seat. Many of what might be described as “Democratic” ballot propositions were defeated: Raising commercial and industrial property taxes lost 52% to 48%, permitting affirmative action in government employment, education and contracting lost 57% to 43%, permitting local government rent control lost 60% to 40% and replacing cash bail with a system based on public safety and flight risk lost 56% to 44%.

Will Biden risk aiding a win in Georgia that might render his more moderate policies more difficult to pursue or, even worse, an embarrassing loss?

So will Biden risk aiding a win in Georgia that might render his more moderate policies more difficult to pursue or, even worse, an embarrassing loss? Or will he be too cautious or, so to speak, too busy to make the trip? Will the inducement of other arms, other eyes and peaceful dreams win out in the end, or does his road lead back to Georgia?

Gregory Smith is President of Westwood Kehilla and an appellate attorney with the law firm of Lowenstein & Weatherwax in Century City.


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