December 02, 2020
Employees of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections process ballots in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., November 4, 2020. (Reuters)
Although it is clear that Democrat Joe Biden easily defeated Republican Donald Trump in last month’s US presidential election, the fight to control the Senate remains undecided, with the results of the two final seats in the state of Georgia still outstanding.
If the Democrats win January’s Georgia runoffs, Biden will have the power to implement policies that impact everything from domestic American issues to the Middle East. If they lose, however, Biden will be forced to rely on directives that have limited impact on existing laws, while also reversing Donald Trump’s executive orders. The direction of the country could remain in limbo and its Middle East policies will be the subject of more heated rhetoric and fierce debate, plus only short-term changes.
After last month’s election, Democrats control 222 seats in the House of Representatives and Republicans 206, nine more than prior to the vote but not enough to undermine the Democratic Party’s control of the House. In the Senate, however, what happens in Georgia’s two runoffs will determine whether or not Biden will have the power to implement his agenda or be forced to do what Trump has largely done and run the country by issuing limited-power executive orders.
Republican incumbents Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler each failed to win more than 50 percent of the votes cast on Nov. 3. This means they will face runoffs against their respective Democrat challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on Jan. 5.
The Democrats currently hold 48 of the Senate’s 100 seats, with the Republicans on 50. If the Democrats can win the runoffs in Georgia, it will create a 50-50 split, with any tied votes being broken by the ballot cast by Vice President Kamala Harris, effectively giving Biden control. Without control of both the House and the Senate, Biden will face the same partisan divisions that held Trump back.
When Trump campaigned for president in 2016, the issue of executive orders was a major topic. Trump harshly criticized President Barack Obama for issuing them rather than getting laws passed by Congress. During his eight years in the White House, Obama issued 276 executive orders to circumvent the paralysis caused by the House and Senate being controlled by different parties. Trump asserted that Obama lacked the skills to bring Democrats and Republicans together.
However, Trump later found himself in the same situation and was unable to get Democratic support for his agenda, so he was forced to run the government by issuing executive orders. He has so far issued 195 of them, with many more expected before he leaves office on Jan. 20.
The passage of a law is the most effective way to change policies in America, but that requires a simple majority in favor in both the House and the Senate. Some laws, like those changing taxation, require a supermajority. This is why the Georgia races are so important.
Without control of both the House and the Senate, Biden will face the same partisan divisions that held Trump back.
What does an executive order do if a law cannot be passed? Basically, it gives the president the power to direct federal government offices to withhold services. For example, although Trump planned to repeal the Affordable Care Act passed by the Obama administration — aka “Obamacare” — his inability to pass a law forced him to issue an executive order that only weakened the national healthcare legislation, rather than killed it off.
Another executive order issued by Trump placed a temporary ban on entry to the US for citizens of seven nations: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Trump was also able to block the distribution of funds to the Palestinians and close the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in Washington.
In January this year, Trump unilaterally authorized the drone strike assassination of top Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
Without control of both houses of Congress, Biden will not be able to pass new laws on immigration or healthcare or make substantive decisions on the Middle East or any other major issue in his platform. How the Biden administration moves forward on all of those issues will come down to the Georgia runoffs and individuals whose names have, until now, had little to do with the fate of the Middle East.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at http://www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania
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