CAPITOL HILL —
Democrat Doug Jones' victory in Alabama's special Senate election sent shock waves Wednesday across Capitol Hill, buoying and emboldening Democrats while forcing Republicans to grapple with a soon-to-be slimmer Senate majority that will make enacting U.S. President Donald Trump's agenda all the more difficult in 2018, an election year.
"Things are looking good for us," said a jubilant Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.
"It was a great night for the country," Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey told VOA. "It did show that there are still folks in the middle who can make a difference in an election, even in a state like Alabama, where voting patterns favor Republicans."
Jones, a former federal prosecutor, eked out a win Tuesday over Republican Roy Moore, a former state supreme court justice whose candidacy had been rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors and young women. Alabama has yet to certify the results, but Jones is expected to become the first Democrat the state has sent to the U.S. Senate in more than two decades.
Weeks before the election, Senate Republican leaders had declared Moore unfit to serve and some had spoken openly of ousting him from the body if he defeated Jones.
"Obviously I'm disappointed that we have another Democratic seat in the Senate, but I'm relieved that we're not going to be dealing with all the mess that was headed our way [had Moore won]," Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota told reporters.
Asked by VOA what lesson Republicans should draw from the Alabama election, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said, "It's an age-old lesson, which is: flawed candidates lose."
Republicans are racing to enact an ambitious tax overhaul before the December 25 Christmas holiday, a deadline that is more urgent than ever given that their current two-seat Senate majority will be cut in half once Jones is sworn in.
Alabama's election certification could take up to two weeks, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that outgoing Alabama Senator Luther Strange will continue to serve for the remainder of the year.
Democrats want the tax vote delayed until Jones is sworn in.
"He [Jones] won an election," Schumer said. "It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam through this tax bill without giving the newly-elected senator from Alabama the opportunity to cast his vote."
Democrats noted that Republicans demanded a similar delay after Republican Scott Brown won a special Senate election in Massachusetts in 2010, when then-majority Democrats were preparing to vote on health care reform.
Republicans dismissed any delay on tax reform, but some acknowledged that their party's priorities will face steeper legislative hurdles with a one-seat Senate majority next year.
"The intention all along was to have the [tax] vote before Christmas, and I think we're on schedule to make that happen," Thune said. "But obviously next year will be a different year. We'll have a lot narrower majority."
2018 midterm elections
Democrats, meanwhile, said they look forward to the 2018 midterm elections with renewed optimism after Tuesday's result in Alabama.
"The Republican brand, even in deep-red Alabama, is positively toxic," Schumer said. "If they continue to run the government for the benefit of the few special powerful wealthy interests, there will be many more Alabamas [Democratic wins] in 2018."
Republicans insisted they are not panicking.
"What we have seen is the people of Alabama have made their decision, and over the next weeks and months we'll know how that decision impacts the overall [legislative] body," South Carolina Senator Tim Scott said.
Whatever the future holds, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said Democrat Jones' victory in heavily Republican-leaning Alabama demonstrated America's enduring ability to self-govern.
"Ultimately the power is with the people. And the people of Alabama showed that last night," Cardin told VOA.