WASHINGTON - The Democratic Party retook control of the US Senate on Wednesday (Jan 6) with historic victories in two Georgia run-off elections.
Democrat Raphael Warnock, a 51-year-old pastor of civil rights giant Martin Luther King Jr’s former congregation, will become Georgia’s first Black senator with his defeat of Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler.
Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff, meanwhile, saw off Republican opponent David Perdue. At 33, he will be Georgia’s first Jewish senator and the country’s youngest since President-elect Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1973 at age 30.
The results were a stunning turnaround from November, when both Democrats polled slightly behind the Republicans.
They underscored the political shift in the formerly deeply Republican state of Georgia, which has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1996, but which voted for Mr Biden in November after months of campaigning and voter registration drives by local Democrat activists and organisers.
It could also signal a rejection of US President Donald Trump, who personally campaigned in Georgia for the Republican senators, and his politics of division and strategy of falsely alleging electoral fraud. He doubled down on Tuesday as Mr Warnock’s victory became likely, claiming without evidence on Twitter that the election was rigged against Republicans.
The twin victories, however, were overshadowed by Trump supporters storming the US Capitol in Washington and clashing with police.
Mr Warnock paid tribute to his mother, remarking on the improbability of his journey made possible “because this is America”, as he promised to work for all Georgians.
“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a US senator,” he said in a late-night video message to supporters.
In flipping the Senate, the Democrats will have unified control of Congress and the White House for the first time since 2009, albeit by the narrowest of majorities.
Both the Democrats and Republicans will have 50 seats in the Senate with Mr Ossoff's win, giving Vice-President Kamala Harris the tiebreaker vote.
It could take days to get a final tally for the outcome of the race between Mr Perdue and Mr Ossoff, as 17,000 military and overseas ballots, and some domestic absentee ballots, can still be counted as late as Friday.
The narrow results will almost certainly spark legal challenges or recounts that also could delay a final determination of Senate control, according to newswire service Bloomberg.
Washington, meanwhile, had been braced for high drama on Wednesday with Congress meeting to count and announce Mr Biden’s 306 to 232 electoral college win over Mr Trump.
The House of Representatives and Senate met in a constitutionally prescribed joint session starting at 1pm to count the electoral votes, all of which have been lawfully certified by the states.
The count had already begun when Trump supporters, who had earlier been listening to a speech by the US President, marched to the US Capitol, overturning barricades and clashing with police on the US Capitol grounds before streaming inside the building.
With drawn guns and tear gas, officers evacuated lawmakers, staff and press and sought to clear the Capitol Building of protesters, who surged through the halls of Congress in shocking scenes broadcast across the globe, said Reuters.
One protester occupied the Senate dais and yelled: “Trump won that election.”
Police later cleared protesters off the Capitol steps, according to video, and were working to clear them from the building, Reuters said.
Vice-President Mike Pence, who had presided over the joint session of Congress, had already been escorted from the Senate.
Mr Pence, as president of the Senate, had been presiding over a roll call of the 50 states and Washington DC. Sealed certificates from each state, containing its electoral votes, were to be opened and officially counted.
If at least one senator and one member of the House of Representatives object to a state’s results, both chambers will separately debate the objection and vote on whether to sustain it. To overturn a result, the House and the Senate must agree by a simple majority vote to do so.
So far, 13 Republican senators and around 140 Congressmen had said they will object to results, likely in at least six states that Mr Biden won: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
But 23 Republican senators had said they would not join the objections, which are all but certain to fail, given the Democrats’ control of the House.