I'm not from the USA myself and I'm trying to understand the transfer of power following the Georgia Run-off elections for the senate.

So far in my head I've got the following:

  • Joe Biden is the president elect and will take over on the 20th Jan
  • The Democrat's control the House by 4 so have a majority and from what I can see Nancy Polosi will remain and the Majority leader
  • The Senate is 50/50 split with Mitch McConnell still the current Majority leader.

I've seen newspaper reports that Chuck Schumer is due to become the Majority Leader... at some point. I know there is some form of vote for a Leader of each party and then the Leader of the party in control becomes the Senate leader.

What I can't find out is a date for when this transfer is due to happen? Will it happen after Biden and Harris are sworn in? It would make sense as there won't be a change of power in the senate until until Harris is the VP and then can cast the deciding vote. Or is there a fixed date of when new leaders are voted in? A special session that happens every X years or months?

Thanks in advance

  • I am guessing it will happen on or shortly after January 20th when Harris becomes the VP and gets the tie breaking vote in the senate but nothing has been said yet as far as I have seen.
    – Joe W
    Jan 14, 2021 at 0:34
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? If elected, when would Ossoff and Warnock take office?
    – divibisan
    Jan 14, 2021 at 0:37
  • 3
    The 2 variables are when Ossoff and Warnock take office to get the Democrats to 50 seats and when Biden is inaugurated to give them Harris as the tiebreaker.
    – divibisan
    Jan 14, 2021 at 0:38
  • 1
    @dvbisan and when Harris's replacement takes his seat in the senate.
    – phoog
    Jan 19, 2021 at 21:14

1 Answer 1


Between January 20th and January 23rd (inclusive)

The Democratic majority in the Senate will only be cemented once Kamala Harris becomes VP, her replacement in the Senate (she was serving as one of California's Senators) is sworn in and seated, and the two new Senators from Georgia are sworn in and seated. If either of the three hasn't occurred, the Republicans retain the majority. So we just need to know when is the latest those events can occur.

Per the constitution, Kamala Harris will be sworn in at noon on January 20th (before Biden is sworn in as President, by tradition), so the transition cannot possibly occur before then.

Exactly when her replacement will be sworn in is a little hard to pin down ahead of time. Traditionally Senators who are going to become VP or President will resign their seat several days or more ahead of time, and then the US Constitution allows their state governor to appoint a replacement as soon as the vacancy arises. President Obama resigned his Senate seat several months in advance of his first Presidency, while his then-to-be-VP Biden waited until several days before Jan 20th. In this case California's Governor, Newsom, has had plenty of time to consider the matter and settled on his choice of replacement, Alex Padilla, some time ago. As of the time I actually was reminded by Phoog in the comments to consider this part of the sequence, the precise timing of things had been settled. In this case, Harris formally resigned and vacated her seat on Monday the 18th. California's governor, Newsom, quickly appointed Alex Padilla to her seat. According to this news report, Harris will swear in Padilla to the Senate after she is sworn in as the VP. So Harris's replacement will be sworn in and seated sometime in the afternoon of the 20th.

Finally, by Georgia state law, all counties have until the 15th to finalize their vote tallies and submit them to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger then has until the 22nd to certify. Once certified, Warnock and Ossoff may be sworn in and take their seats as Senators. Currently I do not know if Raffensperger must complete the certification by a particular time on the 22nd. If it can be dragged out late into the day, the new Senators may have to wait for the next day; even though they might still be able to be officially sworn in right away, the practical effects of this, where the Senate can assert a new majority and the new Senators may cast votes on anything, wouldn't occur until the next day. However, in any case, Raffensperger can also complete the certification before the 22nd, in which case the Senators may be sworn in and first participate in Senate business anytime between the 15th and 23rd, inclusive.

Thus we get that majority control will transfer no earlier than the 20th (at noon), and no later than the 23rd (whenever the Senate convenes that day and procedurally establishes its new majority).

Update (how it's actually going down)

Brad Raffensperger certified Warnock and Ossoff's victories on Tuesday the 19th, and are expected to be sworn in along with Alex Padilla on the afternoon of the 20th. So the Democrats will have established a majority at that point, and Biden will essentially assume the Presidency with (slim) day 1 majorities.

  • In addition to the three events mentioned here, Democratic control of the senate also depends on Harris's replacement taking his seat. Could that happen after the 23rd?
    – phoog
    Jan 19, 2021 at 21:10
  • @phoog Kamala formally vacated her seat recently, and Gov. Newsom has already appointed Alex Padilla to her seat (which expires in 2022, so he'll be in re-election mode quite quickly, though as CA is solidly blue he'll have really good odds of winning). It appears Harris intends to swear in Padilla into the senate after she's sworn in as VP. So I'll add that to the answer, thanks. Jan 20, 2021 at 4:38
  • As an aside I'll note there are some formal technicalities that have to be satisfied to allow things to go as planned apparently, though they're not expected to be issues. In Georgia the Gov. also signs on to the certification, which he has already done, and then a document must physically be delivered to Congress to formally complete the sequence. That delivery shouldn't pose any issues, as same/one day deliveries are an easy thing these days, but technically speaking there's more to do than just certify. Jan 20, 2021 at 4:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .