Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took an emotional victory lap on Wednesday after Democrats won the Georgia runoff and secured an outright majority with a 51st Senate seat.
The New York Democrat said he was “brought to tears last night” watching Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in his re-election victory speech, talk about how his mother went from picking cotton and tobacco as a teenager to picking her son to be a U.S. senator. He showered praise on Warnock for an “inspiring” campaign.
“The practical effects of the 51-seat majority: It’s big. It’s significant. We can breathe a sigh of relief,” Schumer told reporters at a press conference in Washington.
“Obviously judges and nominees will be a lot easier to put on the bench,” he added. “It’s going to be a lot quicker, swifter and easier.”
Warnock’s Georgia win concludes a disastrous showing for Republicans in 2022 Senate races, a cycle they began with high hopes of riding a backlash to Democratic President Joe Biden and picking up a swath of seats. But they failed to flip a single seat, falling short in key states like Arizona and Nevada, while losing a seat they held in Pennsylvania.
Schumer attributed it to several factors. He said the Democrats had “great candidates.” He credited legislative wins. He said Americans “began to realize how far-right these MAGA Republicans had gone” as they saw some Republicans struggle to condemn “hooligans” and “insurrectionists” who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The result “shows that Americans believe in democracy,” Schumer said. “The roots of democracy are deep. This 200-plus-year noble experiment is not a fluke. It’s hanging around for a long time, as long as we fight for it, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Still, the GOP narrowly won control of the House, which will sharply limit Biden’s legislative ambitions for the next two years.
Last month, after a poor general election showing and before the Georgia runoff, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans failed with moderate voters.
“We underperformed among voters who did not like President Biden’s performance and among independents and among moderate Republicans, who looked at us and concluded: Too much chaos, too much negativity,” McConnell told reporters on Nov. 16. “And we turned off a lot of these centrist voters, which is why I never predicted a red wave to begin with.”
The Georgia win means Democrats can dispense with the power-sharing accord they struck with Senate Republicans when the Senate was evenly divided, 50-50. That means Democrats will gain a clear majority on committees and avoid having to rely on GOP support to issue subpoenas. It also means less dependence on Vice President Kamala Harris for tie-breaking votes.
“It’s going to mean that our committees will have greater oversight ability, subpoena power,” Schumer said. “And people say, ‘Well, it’s the Biden administration.’ Oh, no, no, no. Subpoena power can deal with corporate corruption and inequities and other problems throughout the country.”
Schumer declined to get more specific on how Democrats intend to use that subpoena power, saying senators will meet to discuss it.
He also weighed in on dealing with a Republican-controlled House, calling on newly elected lawmakers in swing districts in states like New York to be moderate.
“A good number of the non-MAGA Republicans — including some who won in New York, I know a few of them pretty well and worked with them when they were in other offices — realize that if they follow a MAGA direction, they’re going to lose, And so I think there’s doing to be a real imperative for them to work with us.”
The majority leader, who is slated to keep his post for at least two more years, admitted he initially wanted someone else to run in Georgia.
“Four years ago, I began recruiting candidates in Georgia,” Schumer said. “And my first choice was obviously my friend Stacey Abrams. She said, ‘I don’t want to run for Senate. But there’s someone as good as me, if not better: Raphael Warnock.’”
Looking ahead to the 2024 election, when Democrats will have a much tougher map with more seats to defend, Schumer gave a vote of confidence to Biden as an asset to his party’s Senate hopes.
“I think President Biden being on the ticket — if he runs, and if he runs I’ll support him — would be very, very helpful,” Schumer said.
Frank Thorp V and Julie Tsirkin contributed.