Three new US senators were sworn in on Wednesday, giving Democrats control over the legislature’s upper chamber for the first time since 2014 and control over the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time since 2011.
While most of the federal lawmakers elected in the November 3, 2020, election were sworn in on January 3, two senators had not yet been elected: Senators Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both triumphed in a pair of special elections held on January 5 in Georgia. Both are Democrats, and Warnock is the state’s first Black senator and Ossoff the state’s first Jewish senator.
A third new Democratic lawmaker joined them: Sen. Alex Padilla, appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom to fill Kamala Harris’ seat now that she has been sworn in as US vice president. Padilla becomes the youngest lawmaker in the chamber at 30 years old and is the first Latino senator to represent California, which is 39% Hispanic and has more than one-quarter of all Hispanic-Americans.
Harris, who as vice president also presides over the Senate as its tie-breaking president, conducted the swearing-in ceremonies on Wednesday afternoon, just hours after her own swearing-in alongside US President Joe Biden.
Their additions to the Senate gives Democrats the narrowest of majorities: in terms of lawmakers, the split is 50 senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties, but in the event of a tie-breaker, Harris is likely to come down on her party’s side. When Harris is not present, the president pro tempore position will be held by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the most senior Democrat in the Senate and the body’s eldest lawmaker at 80 years old.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has also become the new Senate majority leader, replacing Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who had held the post since 2015. The position allows him to manage the Senate’s agenda.
Among the new Senate’s first responsibilities will be conducting the impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump, who was charged last week by the House with inciting the January 6 insurrection against Congress. Thousands of Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol building that day, dispersing Congress in an attempt to block the certification of the 2020 election results showing Harris and Biden as the winners. While they failed, Trump’s supporters looted the Capitol building and five people died, one of whom was a US Capitol Police officer.
The Senate will also be tasked with confirming Biden's many nominees to fill federal offices, including the heads of various departments and agencies. Earlier on Wednesday, Biden appointed several temporary agency heads until his nominees are confirmed, which could take months.
In the November election, Democrats also retained their control of the US House of Representatives, although they lost 11 seats in the 435-person body.