https://www.bbc.com-Image source, Reuters
By Anthony Zurcher-North America correspondent
The Republican midterm flameout is now official. Democrats have retained control of the US Senate. Here’s why that matters.
Four days after tens of millions of Americans went to the polls, Catherine Cortez Masto’s narrow victory in Nevada late on Saturday finally delivered a decisive result in the national political battle.
The Democrats now lead 50 seats to 49 in the upper chamber of the US Congress. Even if Republicans win the remaining Senate race in Georgia, Vice-President Kamala Harris will be able to cast a tie-breaking vote.
That’s been the case for the past two years, of course – and it paves the way for President Joe Biden to spend two more years filling the federal courts with his nominees and staffing his administration largely the way he sees fit.
Most significantly, should a Supreme Court seat become vacant due to an unexpected retirement or death of a justice, the Republicans would not be able to block Mr Biden’s choice. Democrats remember how back in 2016, then-Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell prevented Barack Obama’s nominee from getting a hearing at all.
The win in Nevada means the Georgia Senate run-off on 6 December is no longer a pivotal contest to determine control of the chamber. Mr Biden, however, said “it’s simply better” for Democrats to get to 51 seats. The extra cushion certainly makes it easier to manage a majority and it will also help in 2024 when the party will have more at-risk seats to defend.
There is still a likelihood, although not certainty, that the Republicans will control a slim majority in the House of Representatives, bringing a variety of headaches for the president.
His legislative agenda is dead, and more aggressive Republican oversight is in store, but even that has a silver lining – if his political opponents are unable to effectively govern due to internal discord.
The consequences of this history-defying midterm election result are still being revealed.
Joe Biden’s standing within his party has been bolstered. His advisers are now speaking more confidently about his intention to seek a second term as president. His former rivals, like liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, are singing his praises.
“This victory belongs to Joe Biden,” she said on Sunday. “The president’s leadership put us in a position – every candidate up and down the ballot – to talk about what Democrats fight for and what we deliver on.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s political future has been damaged, although how enduringly remains to be seen.
A day after the Democrats won the US Senate, and as they continue to win toss-up races in the House of Representatives, some Republicans are stepping in front of the cameras to place blame squarely at Donald Trump’s feet.
They are by and large, however, the usual suspects who have been regular critics of the former president in the past.
Senator Bill Cassidy, who said Trump-backed candidates “underperformed” in the midterms, voted to convict the former president in his second impeachment trial. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who said the former president cost the Republicans in the recent election, cast a presidential ballot for “Ronald Reagan” in 2020, not Mr Trump.
The real test will be if long-time Trump allies – people like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, members of the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus or prominent Republican governors – turn on him.
Will they find other things to do when Mr Trump holds a rally in their state? Will they hold their tongues if he runs for president? Will they risk Mr Trump’s ire if they aren’t sufficiently supportive? At least so far, there’s no sign of that.
According to recent reports, the former president’s allies are pushing Republicans interested in leadership positions in Congress to publicly support Mr Trump’s presidential aspirations.
One, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, has already done so. If more follow suit, it could be an indication that – in spite of recent events – ambitious Republican politicians still view their path to success hinging on the former president’s blessing.
The political landscape in the US looks considerably different than it did just a week ago.
Democrats are feeling more secure about where they stand, while Republicans struggle to regain their balance. But given the uncertain nature of American politics these days, there’s no guarantee the ground won’t shift again before too long.