Shadows On a Lame Duck Session

There’s been a lot of speculation recently about what might or might not happen in a post-election “lame duck session” of Congress, most recently with respect to a confirmation hearing for a new Attorney General (since the White House now seems to be leaning against naming a replacement for Eric Holder before November 4). There could also be a war resolution debate, manuevering over executive action on immigration, and no telling what else.

But most of the talk assumes we’ll know after November 4 who’s going to control the Senate when the next Congress convenes, and as anyone following campaign developments understands, that’s very much up in the air. Most obviously, if control depends on a decision by independent winners in Kansas and/or South Dakota who have promised to wait until January to choose a caucus, then people can assume all they want about what Greg Orman and/or Larry Pressler will do (today WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin faithfully follows the GOP party line that both are puppets of the Satanic Mormon Harry Reid), but you won’t be able to take it to the bank.

Even more to the point, the possibility of Senate races in Louisiana and Georgia going into overtime (with a December 6 “jungle primary” runoff in the former and a January 6 general election runoff in the latter) is steadily moving towards probability. Now the CW is that Republicans will almost invariably win such runoffs (the big counter-example, Mary Landrieu’s 2002 runoff victory, being discounted in part because Senate control had already been decided in that cycle), and that’s understandable. But I’m not sure the country has ever seen what might happen in a runoff with such large stakes; Lord knows whatever dark arts the DSCC has mastered about GOTV would be applied with all the money it could want.

So long as there is reasonable doubt about what January will bring, the uncertainty will cast a big shadow over the lame duck session. That’s worth keeping in mind whenever you hear predictions of its scope or trajectory.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.