By Arturo Castañares
Newly sworn-in Vice-President Kamala Harris returned to the Senate today to administer the oath to three new Senators, including the replacement to fill the California seat she vacated this week before her inauguration as the second-highest elected official in the country.
As President of the Senate, Vice-President Harris administered the oath of office to Georgia’s Jon Ossoff and Pastor Raphael Warnock who won their elections on January 5th, and also to Alex Padilla, California’s former Secretary of State who was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to fill Harris’ seat.
Padilla, 47, the first Latino to ever represent California in the US Senate, had served as Secretary of State since 2014 and was re-elected in 2018. Born and raised in Pacoima in East LA, Padilla earned a mechanical engineering degree from MIT, one of the most prestigious technical universities in the country.
Before his election as Secretary of State, Padilla was elected to the California State Senate and, before that, to the Los Angeles City Council where he was the youngest Council President in LA history.
With the three new Democratic senators now seated, the US Senate is evenly divided by Republicans and Democrat at 50 votes each. Any tie votes can be decided by the vote of the Vice-President who is the President of the Senate and can only vote to break a tie, effectively giving control to the Democrats. Harris, who served four years in the Senate before being elected on Biden’s presidential ticket, resigned her Senate seat on Monday.
Senate leaders have been working on a power-sharing agreement that was last used under President George W. Bush when the Senate was also equally divided. In such cases, the party of the sitting president becomes the de facto majority party because of the Vice-President’s tie-breaking vote. Under the past agreement, all committees had equal numbers of members from each party, but chairmanships and power to move legislation were controlled by the majority party.
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) will now become the Majority leader, replacing Republican Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) who led the Senate during Barack Obama’s two terms and Trump’s single term. As Senate leader, McConnell was instrumental in controlling judicial appointments, famously blocking Obama from appointing Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in Obama’s last year in office, and driving through more than 200 appointments under Trump, including three to the Supreme Court.
Joe Biden has now nominated Judge Garland to be the next US Attorney General and his appointment will come before the US Senate sometime this month.
Democrats control the House of Representatives by a thin four-vote majority which could be reduced if Congressmembers that have been nominated by Joe Biden to serve in his new Administration are ultimately appointed, leaving vacancies to be filled in special elections. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) was re-elected to her leadership post earlier this month.
For at least the next two years, Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House.