Biden transition hoping for victory but bracing for defeat in Georgia

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Joe Biden is eyeing a more ambitious agenda for the first 100 days of his presidency — if, that is, Democrats can win twin upsets in a pair of Georgia Senate runoffs on Tuesday.

But Biden’s advisers are privately skeptical about Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock’s chances, Democrats say. And though confidants say that the incoming team’s core priorities for that 100-day agenda will remain the same regardless of the outcome — the pandemic, the recession, climate change and racial inequality — they concede that the scale of their plans could change dramatically come Tuesday evening.

Biden himself underscored the stakes of the runoffs in a stop in Georgia on Monday when he made the case for the two Democratic challengers by tying the success of his agenda to their candidacies.

“By electing Jon and the Reverend, you can make an immediate difference in your own lives, the lives of people all across the country, because their election will put an end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check,” Biden said at a rally in Atlanta. “That money will go out the door immediately."

He added: “If you send [Sens. David] Perdue and [Kelly] Loeffler back to Washington, those checks won’t get there.”

But according to officials close to the transition, the incoming president’s team has been sketching out various tracks for its early legislative agenda — an implicit recognition that their administration will look markedly different depending on the results in Georgia.

"Joe Biden and Kamala Harris broke all records when they received an overwhelming mandate for the bold priorities on which they ran,” Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for the transition, said in a statement. “They’ve put their all into Georgia and will put their all into fulfilling their agenda every single day they’re in office."

Recent history has given Democrats reason to be bearish about their chances in Georgia. A Democrat hasn’t taken a Senate seat in Georgia in more than two decades, and a pair of victories on Tuesday would be, as one person in touch with the transition team put it, “nothing short of a miracle.”

Privately, Biden’s team does not expect to win the races, according to Democratic officials, but they are more optimistic about their chances than they were weeks ago. Though the president-elect narrowly won the state in November, they attribute that to a powerful anti-Trump sentiment that did not translate down the ballot. Perdue received about 88,000 more votes than Ossoff, and the top two Republicans combined got more than 636,000 votes than Warnock in the special election.

One former Democratic official said few Democrats, if any, are preparing for victory. It’s not "their organizing principle," the official said of the incoming transition team, adding that their planning has focused on Democrats not having control of the Senate.

But there is a renewed sense of hope that winning is possible both because of President Donald Trump’s actions since the November election and strong early vote turnout numbers that appear to favor Democrats. Trump’s demand for $2,000 stimulus checks as part of a Covid relief bill gave Ossoff and Warnock a new closing argument after Senate Republicans rejected the measure late last year. The president’s unsubstantiated claims that his 2020 election loss was tainted by fraud, alongside his public attacks against Georgia Republicans for not helping overturn the results, could also keep his supporters away from the polls.

“There’s growing hope on our side because Trump has done literally everything he could to sabotage Perdue and Loeffler,” one House Democratic aide said. “It’s hard for me to think of other stuff he could have done to hurt them more.”

For Biden, an unexpected sweep of the races would dramatically change his legislative prospects, giving him 50 votes in the Senate and, with that, opening up a much wider array of opportunities to push a pricier agenda through Congress. It would reduce his need to govern primarily by regulatory or executive action, a path that Biden has made clear he does not want to take.


The Biden camp, in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee, has invested more than $6 million directly into the Georgia races, in addition to the more than $12 million they’ve provided through fundraising efforts. They also shifted roughly 50 staffers from the Biden-coordinated campaign to help the campaigns on the ground in Georgia. In addition to Biden’s stop, which was his second in-person visit to the state since the election, Harris has made two campaign visits to Georgia.

Regardless of the outcome, Biden’s top legislative priority will be a stimulus package aimed at distributing funds for states to vaccinate Americans, among other Covid-related priorities. The incoming president said the $900 billion stimulus package Congress just passed was a “down payment,” and he would quickly ask them to ready another bill for the start of his term. Beyond coronavirus relief, Biden’s transition advisers have developed or are working on multiple proposals on a range of policy ideas, from infrastructure to green jobs to raising the minimum wage.

Democrats concede the scope of the agenda is dependent on the Georgia results. Items that stand a chance of passage under a Democratic Senate, such as an ambitious government ethics reform package previously crafted by House Democrats, will go nowhere if the Senate is still run by Sen. Mitch McConnell, top party officials acknowledge.

“I think [the Biden team] will push for the same kinds of things,” said a senior official at a top Democratic outside group, who has been in touch with Biden’s transition team. “The question is, what will we get? They need more money for vaccine distribution and to help schools. All of that becomes doable and easier with a Democratic Senate. If they don’t get it, they’re looking for alternatives for how to get that stuff done.”

One of the earliest effects of Democrats winning Georgia’s races could simply be to give Biden a boost of momentum before he takes office. Beyond the impact on policy, Democratic control of the Senate schedule would mean a quicker confirmation process for his Cabinet nominees. And the faster they enter office, the faster his Cabinet secretaries can begin executing their own agendas at individual agencies.

But beyond that, even with two Democratic victories on Tuesday, “I don’t think the agenda is changing,” the former Democratic official said. “It’s the ease in which you might be able to execute the agenda, or get the agenda done.”

Sam Stein contributed to this story.

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