Dec 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Georgia runoff holds key to Senate subpoena power

Illustration of a magnifying glass over a “I voted” sticker

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Democrats have already clinched control of the Senate, but the difference between 50 and 51 seats will play a major role in their ability to counter the new House Republican majority's priority: investigations.

Why it matters: Adding a Senate seat in the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff would give Democrats more investigative resources and — crucially — nearly unilateral power to issue subpoenas without Republican buy-in.

State of play: Under the current power-sharing agreement governing a split 50-50 Senate, committee membership, budgets and office space are evenly divided — even though Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote technically means Democrats hold the majority.

  • If Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) wins his runoff against Republican Herschel Walker, Democrats would be entitled to more committee seats and a larger share of the budget.
  • That means Democratic committee chairs would no longer have to seek bipartisan support to issue subpoenas compelling witness testimony or the production of documents.

What we're watching: Democratic senators on key committees like the Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations are already preparing to add more counsel to their staff in expectation of a larger budget.

  • Priorities for Democratic investigations could include "climate issues, President Trump and his family, and election issues," said Alyssa DaCunha, co-chair of WilmerHale's congressional investigations practice.
  • "We could also see Democratic investigations intended as 'counter-programming' to House Republican investigations," DaCunha added.
  • House Republicans have already signaled their intention to investigate Hunter Biden, the administration's handling of the border and alleged politicization of the Justice Department.

The intrigue: Senate Democrats could also pursue their own investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection and build on the work of the House Jan. 6 committee, which is set to dissolve at the end of the current Congress.

Be smart: Senate committees historically function on a more bipartisan basis than the House, so don't expect a Democratic-controlled Senate to pursue overtly partisan investigations.

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