Lawmakers weigh fallout of Ala. election, Minn. shuffle

By Nick Bowlin | 12/14/2017 06:54 AM EST

Doug Jones’ monumental Alabama Senate win has Capitol Hill abuzz. And consequences abound for the agenda, the makeup of energy and environment committees, and beyond.

Two new Democrats will soon be joining the Senate: Tina Smith from Minnesota and Doug Jones from Alabama.

Two new Democrats will soon be joining the Senate: Tina Smith from Minnesota and Doug Jones from Alabama. C-SPAN

Doug Jones’ monumental Alabama Senate win has Capitol Hill abuzz. And consequences abound for the agenda, the makeup of energy and environment committees, and beyond.

Immediate reactions to the race results ranged from ecstatic among Democrats to measured approval among Republicans, who mourn the loss of a seat but appear pleased to avoid having to deal with Roy Moore.

"As I watched the returns last night, I was conflicted because we’d lose a seat, but proud of the people of Alabama because I believe they choose principle over politics," said Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R), who announced before Election Day he would not vote for Moore.


"I think it helps the Republicans in the long run that we won’t have someone that would be so radioactive, so controversial," he said.

Instead, the chamber gets Jones, a former prosecutor who ran on progressive economic policies, education spending and health care access.

Jones "deserved to win this race," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday. "He’s a really fine man. He was an excellent candidate. He’s going to make an outstanding senator for the state of Alabama."

Schumer and other leading Democrats called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold off on final votes for the GOP’s tax overhaul bill until Jones is seated.

The Alabama election will be certified no earlier than Dec. 26 and no later than Jan. 3, according to state law, but Democrats say that should not matter.

"That’s how we do it in the House," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said to reporters in the Capitol. "We don’t wait for full certification, we say the election has taken place, we seat the member and expect the certification to come later. I would hope they would do that here."

Democrats reminded McConnell that he called on Democrats to delay a vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 when former Sen. Scott Brown (R) won a special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s old seat.

A delay for Jones is unlikely. In the days before the election, McConnell said lame-duck Sen. Luther Strange (R), who lost to Moore in the primary, would serve out the current session, giving Republicans a rock-solid vote in favor of the GOP-backed tax code overhaul.

Lacking a significant legislative achievement in President Trump’s first year in office, Republicans are desperate to pass the tax measure. The impending loss of a conservative vote only increases the pressure.

As of yesterday afternoon, it appeared the Republican caucus had worked out a deal, with plans to have the massive bill on Trump’s desk by next week (see related story).

Trump himself yesterday made at least two appearances on the tax bill and is predicting victory soon, telling people he wants to give them a "giant tax cut" for Christmas.

Nominees in danger

With Jones in the chamber, the GOP majority will sit on the knife edge at 51-49. With fault lines evident in the majority caucus, Democrats will have greater power to either counter or control GOP agenda items in 2018.

A slimmer GOP majority also likely gives greater political heft to Republican moderates like Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as well as Trump critics who have proved willing to break from the party, including Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, and Bob Corker of Tennessee.

In the Capitol yesterday, Collins said that Jones had the makings of a centrist willing to work across the aisle on an infrastructure package or immigration reform.

Asked whether the Alabama election might empower moderates like herself, Collins replied, "Let’s hope so."

Committee upheaval

Jones’ win, coupled with the impending resignation of disgraced Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D), will prompt a reshuffle of Senate energy- and environment-related committees.

Both Franken and Strange, the outgoing Alabama senator, sit on the Energy and Natural Resources panel, and Strange is also a member of Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Franken’s replacement, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D), is known as a clean energy advocate and could have interest in taking Franken’s ENR seat, depending on the priorities of party leadership.

Ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said yesterday she was unclear what would happen to Franken’s seat. "I haven’t even thought about that," she said.

Spokesmen for McConnell and Schumer did not respond to requests for comment on whether there would be changes to the committee ratios, which are negotiated at the outset of a Congress.

ENR Chairwoman Murkowski said McConnell yesterday mentioned to her that "he’s going to have to look at those ratios."

Republicans have a one-seat majority on the panel now, and Murkowski said the two leaders could simply agree to add a new Democrat and Republican to maintain the 12-11 split.

However, they could also drop one seat from each party for an 11-10 ratio. "But we don’t know that" yet, said Murkowski.

Environmentalists praised Smith — much as they cheered Jones — after Gov. Mark Dayton (D) formally nominated her yesterday morning.

"Tina Smith is a dedicated public servant and a champion of clean energy," LCV Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld said in a statement. "She has been an advocate for climate action, clean air and water, and public health. We look forward to working with her in the Senate."

As with Jones, it is not clear when Smith will be seated. Franken is expected to resign soon but had not set a final date as of yesterday.

Reporters Geof Koss, Corbin Hiar and George Cahlink contributed.