Schumer Becomes Majority Leader as 3 Democrats Sworn In

Chuck Schumer became the Senate’s majority leader on Wednesday as three new Democratic senators were sworn in just hours after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took their oaths of office.

Former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and newly-elected Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were given the oath by Harris shortly after the Senate was called into session, creating a rare 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans.

By virtue of Harris’s power to break any tie votes, Democrats now have a nominal majority that will allow Schumer to set the schedule for Biden’s agenda, though it doesn’t guarantee swift or easy passage of legislation.

“We have turned the page to a new chapter in the history of our democracy, and I am full of hope,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in his first speech as majority leader. “We have a lengthy agenda, and we need to get it done together.”

The new leaders won’t have long to get acclimated, with Schumer and Biden planning an opening sprint of nominations and legislation along with the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump on a charge of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol. The date for the trial hasn’t been set.

A major early challenge for Schumer will be to deliver another round of pandemic relief that Biden and Democrats promised voters, including additional direct checks to most Americans. Biden has called for a $1.9 trillion package — a number far larger than Republicans were willing to back when the Trump administration was considering a deal with Democrats before the election. It follows the $900 billion bipartisan package Trump reluctantly signed in December.

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney expressed skepticism about the need for another major stimulus after the December legislation.

“We just passed a program with over $900 billion in it,” Romney said after Biden’s inaugural ceremony. “I’m not looking for a new program in the immediate future.”

If they can’t get 10 Republicans to join them, Democrats could use a procedure known as budget reconciliation, which would require all Democrats to stay united to use their slimmest possible margin to reach a simple majority.

Schumer and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell are still negotiating the organization of an evenly divided Senate. The two met briefly on Tuesday without resolving all the issues, which include the structure of committees. Schumer favors adopting the agreement put in place at the start of 2001, the last time the Senate was evenly divided, according to his spokesman, Justin Goodman.

That deal provided both parties equal membership on committees, equal budgets for committee Republicans and Democrats, and the ability of both leaders to advance legislation out of committees that are deadlocked.

Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware pointed out that both McConnell and Schumer were at church this morning with Biden.

“They went to church together, and maybe a little divine intervention, a little power of prayer and we’ll get something going,” Carper said.

McConnell, in his first speech as minority leader, congratulated the new administration and the three new senators. He recognized Biden and Harris as former senators, and said he looks forward to working with them.

“Last fall the American people chose to elect a narrowly divided House of Representatives, a 50-50 Senate, and a president who promised unity,” McConnell said. “The people intentionally entrusted both political parties with significant power to shape out nation’s direction. May we work together to honor that trust.”

The elections of Warnock and Ossoff, who defeated incumbent Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in closely contested runoffs on Jan. 5, delivered the Democratic majority. The state officially certified their victories on Tuesday.

Warnock, 51, who will be just the 11th African American senator in history and the first from Georgia, is the senior pastor at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He will face a re-election contest in just two years, when he’ll likely be a top Republican target with control of the Senate on the line.

Ossoff, 33, will easily be the youngest senator — displacing 41-year-old Josh Hawley — and is the first Jewish Senator from Georgia.

Padilla, 47, the son of Mexican immigrants, will become just the 11th Hispanic senator in history and first Latino from California. He was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom and had the backing of the state’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein. He, too, must face voters again in two years.

— With assistance by Laura Litvan, Erik Wasson, and Daniel Flatley

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