Democrats just got a poignant reminder of the precarious nature of life in a 50-50 Senate, especially ahead of an impending Supreme Court nomination.
After news broke Tuesday that New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján suffered a stroke last week, there was a palpable concern for a valued fellow senator and then relief among his colleagues that he was expected to make a full recovery.
At 49, Luján is one of the geriatric Senate’s young bucks, yet his sudden hospitalization, at least for now, deprives Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of a functioning majority if he needs to call a short-notice vote.
And it offered a preview of more serious long-term implications for Democrats if even one of their number becomes temporarily or permanently incapacitated. Thoughts about the fragility of the chamber’s delicate balance of power will have flashed across many minds on Tuesday afternoon. This consideration is especially acute since the Senate will soon begin to consider President Joe Biden’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
Renewed focus on the slim margin of error available to Democrats in the confirmation process also underscored why so many progressives were so itching for Breyer to retire. They are desperate to confirm a liberal justice while their Senate majority holds to avoid further bolstering the current 6-3 conservative majority on the high court.
Democrats believe they have a good chance to get at least a few GOP votes to confirm Biden’s yet-to-be-announced nominee that would give them some breathing space. But given the stark polarization in Washington, it’s not out of the question that tactical calculations could change if the political winds shift. Without Republican votes, they would need all 50 Democratic senators to vote in person to back the nomination.
There is an effective case that Democrats outdoors Washington and a few within the House did not totally recognize the complexities of working with a 50-50 Senate majority that requires each Democrat to kind an easy majority, plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Democrats have discovered actuality the onerous approach, after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, each reasonable Democrats, blocked Biden’s huge social spending and local weather program and a bid to vary filibuster guidelines to reform electoral regulation.
Speed is due to this fact of the essence for Democrats to keep away from any mishaps with the Supreme Court affirmation. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois mentioned Tuesday that Biden hoped for a brisk affirmation course of about 40 days as soon as he is named his choice. If the President declares his nominee by the top of this month, that might give Luján two months or extra of convalescence earlier than a closing vote if needed.
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