Runoffs to leave Georgia one man down in Senate

Perdue’s seat will be vacated for several days in January

Georgia will only have one U.S. senator when the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3 — for a few days, that is.

The state’s unique runoff system is creating an unprecedented situation as Senate officials scramble to determine what exactly will happen to the office of Republican incumbent David Perdue during the first week of January.

Perdue’s Senate term officially ends at noon on Jan. 3, the first day of the new Congress. But his seat will not be filled until after Jan. 5, when Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff in a runoff.

State officials and legal observers are expecting Perdue’s office to be vacant for a number of days, until the secretary of state certifies the election results and a winner is declared. That process could take several additional days, and the vacancy would occur even if Perdue wins reelection, they said.

Kelly Loeffler, the state’s other Republican senator, who’s in a runoff of her own, will not be in the same boat. That’s because she was appointed to fill former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, which doesn’t expire until January 2023. Loeffler will remain seated until her contest against Democrat Raphael Warnock is decided, according to the secretary of state’s office.

With one man down, Georgia will lose half its voting representation in the Senate during that period. The first few days of each new Congress are largely ceremonial, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could advance a final batch of judicial nominations or take other actions to solidify the legacy of outgoing President Donald Trump.

There’s little precedent for the vacancy created by the Perdue-Ossoff runoff.

Georgia is one of only two states that require runoffs when no candidate receives a majority of the vote in a general election. And Georgia has not needed a Senate runoff since a 2012 ruling required state election officials to schedule such overtime battles in January to allow extra time for members of the U.S. military to send in their ballots.

The situation is creating extra heartburn for the dozens of people who work for Perdue in Washington and across Georgia.

A 2014 report from Congress' nonpartisan research arm is silent on runoffs but suggests Perdue’s staff may be removed from the payroll on Jan. 2 as the Republican’s term winds down.

The Secretary of the Senate’s office and the chairman of the chamber’s Rules Committee did not respond to requests for comment. Perdue’s office did not have a comment.

Brad Fitch, head of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advises members of Congress on running their offices, said it would be “rather unusual and slightly ridiculous” if the Senate made Perdue shutter his office in the few days before the runoff’s results are finalized - only to rehire his staff if he wins reelection.

In the House, which has its own set of rules, the offices of the late Congressman John Lewis and ex-U.S. Rep. Tom Graves have been operating in a limited capacity without their onetime bosses. The staff can’t advocate for political or policy positions, nor can they vote in the committees on which the lawmakers served or on the floor. But under the supervision of the clerk of the House, they are continuing to help constituents with pending casework regarding federal agencies and are staying on the federal payroll until a successor is elected.