Mark Kelly sworn-in to Senate, slicing GOP majority

Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) was sworn-in as a United States Senator by outgoing Vice President Mike Pence (R-Ind.) on Wednesday afternoon. Kelly, a former NASA astronaut who has been in space for 54 days, was elected on November 3 over incumbent Senator Martha McSally. McSally, a Republican appointed in 2018 to fill the seat vacated by John McCain’s death, lost the election to Kelly by just under 80,000 votes. Kelly will serve the remainder of McCain’s term, which expires in January 2023.

Kelly was sworn-in in front of his fellow Senators, with Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) standing beside him. Later Wednesday, he attended a reenactment of his inauguration in the Old Senate Chamber, with his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), holding the Bible. Kelly first took a visible role as a political activist following an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Giffords in 2011 that left her with a severe brain injury.

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November 3rd’s elections were disappointing for Democrats nationwide. While Joe Biden (D-Del.) did succeed in defeating President Donald Trump, House Democrats— led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.)— suffered losses cutting their majority to historically narrow, and Senate Democrats— led by Senator Chuck Schumer (N.Y.)— made a net of just one gain against Senate Republicans, insufficient to immediately regain the majority in the Chamber.

That said, the path to a Democratic majority in the Senate is not yet closed. Of the 100 seats in the Chamber, a majority of 51 is needed for control. However, the Vice President would break any 50-50 tie that arises, likely in the favor of their party. Republicans have won 50 seats headed into 2021, and Democrats have won 48 seats. Democrats, also having won the Presidency and Vice Presidency, would have control of a hypothetical 50-50 Senate because incoming Vice President Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) would break any tie (likely) in favor of the Democrats.

Two key seats are still undetermined, both in Georgia. Incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are facing runoff elections on January 5, 2021 against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock. Both races are extremely competitive, in the state with the closest margin of any state in the race between Trump and Biden. If both Ossoff and Rev. Warnock win, Democrats will assume control of the Senate on January 20, when Kamala Harris becomes Vice President. If either Sen. Loeffler or Sen. Perdue prevails, Republicans will retain control of the Senate likely until at least 2023.

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