At issue is control of the Senate, which will (probably) be decided on January 5 — in Georgia. With its two Senate seats still up for grabs, Georgia has become the new, unlikely battleground where the fate of Biden’s prospective presidency will be decided.
The Democrats, of course, hope to win both seats, which would split the Senate 50-50, giving them control of the Senate’s legislative machinery and the opportunity to force through any legislation they want (if they can maintain sufficient party discipline to do so). If they win even one seat, they might still be able to recruit a wavering Republican senator like Lisa Murkowski or Susan Collins to give them the majority. A little pork-barrel goes a long way in a state like Alaska or Maine.
A razor-thin Democratic sweep of the Presidency (still disputed), the House of Representatives (222-212 with one race as yet undeclared), and the Senate (50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaker) would give the Democratic Party the opportunity to remake the country (or at least the federal government) in its own image. And that must be Joe Biden’s greatest nightmare.
In ordinary times, a bare majority is not enough to pass sweeping institutional changes. But these are not ordinary times. For four years, Democratic Party activists have characterized Donald Trump and his administration as racist, fascist, and militarist, as the end of American democracy and a threat to the entire planet. A mere change in style at the top of the system won’t come close to satisfying these Democratic stalwarts. They want systemic change — and with the Democrats in charge of the White House and both branches of Congress, it will be difficult for Biden to tell them no.
And yet, Biden presumably doesn’t want to go down in history as the radical president who packed the Supreme Court by appointing half a dozen new justices on 51-50 Senate votes. He may also be reluctant to pack the Senate by ramming through statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. There are even demands for him to increase the membership of the House of Representatives, perhaps tripling the number of house members from 435 to 1275. Should he do so, it would accomplish a back-door Electoral College reform, dramatically reducing the relative vote of low-population states that tend to vote Republican.
For all the accusations of anti-democratic tendencies that have been leveled at Trump, it’s the policies of his critics that would change the rules of American democracy to give their party a long-term (and perhaps permanent) electoral advantage. Were Biden to give in to the demands of his Democratic Party base, he would become in reality what Trump has only ever been in effigy: an American dictator. Publicly, he still has to campaign to win the Senate. Privately, he must be secretly hoping that his party doesn’t win.