What Doug Jones' election could mean for the US Senate

Democrats are hailing Doug Jones’ victory as a moral triumph.

ByABC News
December 13, 2017, 12:26 AM

— -- Democrats are hailing Doug Jones’ victory as a moral triumph not just for Alabama but for the entire country.

His election is a political shot in the arm for Democrats who believed the Senate seat in ruby-red Alabama was unattainable — a referendum on GOP candidate Roy Moore, who faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct toward the end of the race, and on President Donald Trump, who endorsed Moore.

While his election has powerful political repercussions, Jones’ becoming the 47th Senate Democrat (two independents caucus with the Democrats) will likely have only a modest impact on Republicans’ ability to accomplish their legislative goals, although his joining the Senate will be a strong catalyst for Republicans to finish their major agenda items before he is sworn in.

The biggest difference that Jones can make, in terms of Senate votes, is on bills and nominations requiring only a simple majority of 51 votes, like budget-related measures and judicial nominees.

On taxes, Jones’ victory could vex Republicans’ count if he is sworn in before Congress sends its bill to Trump’s desk. Jones is expected to be sworn no sooner than Dec. 27, and GOP leaders insist they will have the bill done by Christmas.

But if they fail to advance the bill before Jones is seated, Republicans can afford to lose only one of their 51 votes in the Senate and still pass the bill on a party-line vote, with Vice President Mike Pence acting as a tie breaker.

House and Senate Republicans are working in a conference committee to merge their versions of the tax bill into a conference report, and Senate leaders have said they’ll have a final version ready for votes by the end of this week.

But Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., voted against the Senate’s initial version of the bill. So in the event he is still a “no” vote and Jones is sworn in before the conference report is voted on in Congress, Senate leaders will not have any margin for losing additional Republicans.

Beyond the tax bill, most of the Senate’s major legislative pushes will require a minimum of 60 votes, so Republicans will need to get at least nine Democratic or independent “yes” votes in order to advance most bills instead of the current eight. Jones has political views in keeping with his party’s mainstream.

While Senate Democrats will no doubt relish the additional vote they will have with Jones — not to mention the political and moral messages his victory sends — their bigger challenge will come in 2018, when 23 Democrats and two independents are up for re-election and Republicans are defending only 10 seats.

“The ’18 election will decide who will control the Senate, and I think it’s going to be us. I hope so,” Sen. Richard Shelby, Jones’ future colleague from Alabama, told reporters hours before the vote.

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