Even though President-Elect Joe Biden earned a convincing victory over President Donald J. Trump in November, control of the U.S. Senate appears to very much be up in the air. On January 5, 2021, two runoffs in Georgia will determine who has control of the upper chamber. Wins by Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff would give Democrats the narrowest of margins, with the Senate locked up at 50-50 and soon-to-be Vice President Kamala Harris—as president of the Senate—providing the tiebreaker if necessary.
If Democrats preside over those two wins, Prof. Monique Gamble foresees a way forward for African Americans, the working class, the middle class and those who embrace a progressive agenda. “It makes a huge difference if both of them win. It will be the difference between incremental movement or leaps and bounds,” said Prof. Gamble, associate professor of political science at the University of the District of Columbia. “I think there is some progressive energy with a Biden presidency. We’d be able to do some things, such as climate change through the possibility of merging the power of the federal government with the innovation of the private sector,” she said.
“We could possibly end up with something very interesting, including progressive ideas about the economy.” Prof. Gamble, who is also a filmmaker and photographer, said she is deeply concerned about the deleterious effects of the coronavirus on American lives, especially economically and financially. The resulting economic meltdown has millions of Americans jobless, at risk of being unemployed and unable to pay their rents or mortgages. Yet, the Republican Party has been reluctant to pass legislation that would provide much-needed relief even as hunger spikes, individuals and families face eviction and businesses, large and small, struggle, hold on precariously or die.
Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a bill in May that would have provided $3 trillion for everything from a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” to ensure that essential workers receive hazard pay, where employers would be able to apply for grants to provide $13 per hour premium pay for their workers on top of regular wages; $850 million for states to provide child and family care for essential workers; funding for personal protective equipment for medical professionals and other emergency health care and essential workers; and a $600 a week extension of unemployment benefits until January 2021 to help millions who have lost jobs during the pandemic. But Senate Majority Mitch McConnell refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote and countered with a much small proposal that helped the wealthy and corporations more than struggling Americans.
Dr. Wilmer Leon, III is someone who pays close attention to most things politics, but he told The Final Call that it’s very difficult to answer what seems to be a pretty straightforward query about who will win. “It’s a hard question to answer because of voter suppression,” he said. “If the game was on the up-and-up, it would be easier to call but they’re still talking about disenfranchising 200,000 voters. All this talk about making sure that all votes are counted doesn’t factor in those eligible voters not allowed to vote.”
Dr. Leon, a nationally syndicated talk show host and author whose expertise is American government, Black politics, and public policy, was referring to the years-long effort of voter suppression and voter manipulation tactics by Republicans and most recently by Gov. Brian Kemp while he was secretary of state. His office purged more than 1.4 million voters from the rolls between 2012 and 2018 and cancelled almost 670,000 registrations in 2017. The majority of those affected were African American. The range of Gov. Kemp’s machinations led to Georgia being described in media reports as “the epicenter
of voter suppression” and led his opponent, former State Rep. Stacey Abrams to describe Gov. Kemp as “a remarkable architect of voter suppression.” Ms. Abrams lost the gubernatorial campaign by 50,000 votes after a nail-biting campaign.
Political consultant and activist Michele Watley agreed with Dr. Leon about the difficulty of predicting both races. “It’s hard to tell. Polls are showing that it’s pretty tight,” she said. “Operatives on the ground seem to be very optimistic. There’s a lot of momentum and excitement. People are coming from all over the country to help out.”
Ms. Watley, who served as African American Outreach Director for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, said the alternative of Mitch McConnell running the U.S. Senate will not bode well for Black people, the middle class or working-class Americans.
“McConnell represents gridlock and would necessitate rule by executive order,” she said. “Not winning the senate will have a greater impact than we anticipate. There’s already indications that President- Elect Biden won’t go against the Constitution with the broad use of executive orders. Meanwhile, we watched Trump rule with an iron fist to come through for his constituents. No one is suggesting that Biden should break with the Constitution, but he should do whatever he needs to bring the country back,” she added. “If he’s unable to get traction in the next two years, he will be in trouble in 2022.
Ms. Watley—founder of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, a non-partisan organization dedicated to amplifying the voices and power of Black women through education and advocacy—said Democrats need to knock safely on every door and do what needs to be done to ensure a victory in January, especially as Americans cope with job loss, widespread unemployment, a global pandemic and a host of social ills exacerbated by Covid-19.
Michelle Marks Osborne said she’s cautiously optimistic that Democrats will win, heartened by the fact that a record 1.5 million votes have been cast in Georgia’s early voting period, and isn’t sad about the confusion in Republican ranks. She castigated the GOP for their callousness, as evidenced by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s declaration that House Republicans would not join Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in a Dec. 24 unanimous consent request to increase economic impact payments.
I expected Republicans to block the $2,000 stimulus checks. They are basically telling their constituents that they’re not worth $2,000,” said Ms. Marks-Osborne, owner and principal consultant of the Marks-Osborne Group, LLC, a company that focuses on inclusion, equity, and racial and restorative justice. “(COVID) surges are happening in Republican states, kids are starving, We want them to be different but they’re not. We have to keep up the pressure. Accountability has to be a factor.”
Daniel del Pielago echoed Dr. Leon with doubts about whether and how much things will change with either party in control. “If I’m looking at this through a local context, we are in this situation because of Democrats. A lot of the loss of public housing and the privatization of public housing occurred under the Obama administration,” said Mr. del Pielago, organizing director of Empower D.C. “A Democratic win is not unwelcomed, but we realize that we’ll have to push the fight,” he added. “We’re dealing with a racist system that undermines Black people, low-income people and the working class. I have no idea who will win but I hope the wins are a spark to keep fighting.”
Dr. Leon characterized Republicans and Democrats as “two wings of the same bird.” “It’s not Democrat or Republican. There’s no viable distinctions or differences between them. The differences are differences around the edges, but those differences are negligible. And they take money from the same donors,” said Dr. Leon.
“It’s all neoliberalism and about the privatization of America. I honestly think Democrats don’t want control (of the government). They’re not predisposed to do anything to help working people. They’re imperialist, capitalist and more hawkish than Republicans,” he added.
“It leaves us screwed, because in my opinion, there hasn’t been a strong enough galvanization of the Left to challenge Democrats. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement and a number of social, civil and other organizations were working to push legislation. Now we have a lot of people protesting but those demonstrations aren’t tied to legislation. And what bills are introduced in the House go to McConnell’s graveyard.”