Watch Live: Democrats take majority in the Senate after Biden’s inauguration

Democrats are taking control of the Senate on Wednesday afternoon, giving the party control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was sworn in during the inauguration ceremony Wednesday, will administer the oath of office for Senators-elect Jon Ossoff, Alex Padilla and Raphael Warnock on Wednesday.

Ossoff and Warnock won their runoff elections in Georgia earlier this month, and Padilla was appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom to replace Harris in the Senate.

How to watch Harris administer the oath of office for Warnock, Ossoff and Padilla

With Ossoff, Padilla and Warnock seated, Democrats will hold the narrowest possible majority in the Senate. The balance will be 50 Democrats to 50 Republicans, with Harris breaking any tie. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have discussed an arrangement based on the power-sharing deal implemented in 2001, the last time there was a 50-50 split in the Senate. Vice President Dick Cheney was in office then, giving Republicans the narrow majority.

Schumer and McConnell met on Tuesday afternoon, and Schumer, according to a spokesperson, “expressed that the fairest, most reasonable and easiest path forward is to adopt the 2001 bipartisan agreement without extraneous changes from either side.” Under the organizing resolution of 2001, the power-sharing arrangement would provide both parties with equal representation on committees, and set up a process for breaking ties in committees that would give a slim advantage to Democrats.

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The Republican leader warned Schumer against eliminating the filibuster during their meeting on Tuesday, according to a McConnell spokesperson.

“Leader McConnell expressed his long-held view that the crucial, longstanding, and bipartisan Senate rules concerning the legislative filibuster remain intact, specifically during the power share for the next two years. Discussions on all aspects of the power-sharing agreement will continue over the next several days,” said the spokesperson.

Because most legislation requires 60 votes to end debate, Democrats will need support from at least 10 Republicans to move forward on most bills. Democrats will have such a narrow majority in the Senate that it could be difficult for Congress to pass some of Mr. Biden’s legislative priorities.

Schumer said Tuesday that passing a comprehensive government and ethics reform bill would be a top priority for the new Senate. A version of the bill was passed in the House two years ago, but McConnell blocked it from having a vote on the Senate floor while he was majority leader. 

If Schumer feels that he is unable to pass this and other measures, he could opt to invoke the procedural maneuver known as the “nuclear option” and eliminate the filibuster. Doing so would also allow the Senate to hold party-line votes on issues important to Democrats, such as making Washington, D.C., a state. 

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The filibuster has already been eliminated for all judicial and cabinet nominations, so Mr. Biden’s nominees can be confirmed, even without any Republican support. Mr. Biden has called for a return to bipartisanship in governing once he returns to office, but it is unclear whether his hopes will withstand the test of the polarized reality of Congress.

One of Mr. Biden’s top legislative priorities is the passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. He would like to see it passed with bipartisan support, but if he cannot reach a deal with Senate Republicans, the package could still pass under reconciliation, a process sometimes used for spending measures that also only requires a simple majority for passage.

In addition to Mr. Biden’s legislative priorities and the confirmation of his Cabinet, the Senate will also undertake an impeachment trial in the coming weeks. The House voted to impeach Mr. Trump earlier this month on the charge of inciting insurrection, after a pro-Trump mob assaulted the Capitol on January 6. Even though Mr. Trump has left office, the impeachment trial is still expected to take place.

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