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Understanding the Impact of the 2020 Federal Elections

November 9, 2020

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After months of predictions of a possible Democratic wave, Tuesday’s election delivered mixed results. Joe Biden appears poised to narrowly defeat President Trump after one of the most contentious election cycles in recent memory. Republicans are favored to retain their Senate majority despite having to defend twice as many seats as their Democratic counterparts. However, Democrats will have one last chance to wrestle back the Senate majority from Republicans if they are able to pull off upset wins in two Senate runoff elections in Georgia scheduled for January 5. In the biggest surprise of election night, House Republicans picked up seats, knocking off at least seven Democratic incumbents, with more races still too close to call. Despite Republican gains, Democrats did retain control of the House of Representatives, leaving Speaker Pelosi to preside over a razor-thin majority.

In a divided government, with a Biden Administration, a Republican Senate and a narrow Democratic majority in the House, the most important relationship in the nation’s Capitol will likely be between President-elect Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Whereas the last two years have seen House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leading Congressional negotiations with the White House and the Senate taking a backseat in discussions between the two branches, the power and leverage in the legislature will shift to the Senate. Divided government more often than not leads to gridlock, but it has also fostered an environment for significant legislative accomplishments in the past. While serving as Vice President, Joe Biden was able to negotiate a number of major bipartisan deals with then-Senate Leader McConnell, giving hope that Washington may be able to address major issues such as infrastructure, economic stimulus and federal spending over the next two years. However, the deeply divided, highly partisan make-up of the new Congress makes it unlikely there will be legislative action on more controversial issues such as immigration, police reform and climate change. Instead, the Biden Administration will have to rely on Executives Orders and regulatory authority to enact their policy priorities on many issues.

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