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Bullet policy · Nov 09, 2020

Science in the U.S. Elections

Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) has won the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections after securing narrow but crucial victories in the battleground states of Arizona and Pennsylvania. He is also currently leading in the vote tallies in Georgia.

President Donald Trump has not yet conceded. His campaign has filed multiple lawsuits challenging vote counting processes and attempting to block counting efforts in a number of states. He has questioned the legitimacy of mail-in ballots since before the election, and has now accused Democrats of “stealing” the election without offering any evidence. Several Republican lawmakers have expressed support for Trump’s assertions, including Senator Lindsey Graham (R–SC), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–CA). Only two Republican Senators, namely Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Mitt Romney (UT), have acknowledged Biden’s win.

Science was not a priority for President Trump during his term. He consistently proposed drastic budget cuts to a number of federal science agencies and delayed the appointment of a White House science advisor for 19 months. Furthermore, his Administration made attempts to bar scientists funded by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from serving on advisory panels, prevent EPA from formulating regulatory decisions on studies for which the underlying data is not publicly available; censor government science; withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement; and discredit the nation’s leading epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, during a pandemic. President-Elect Biden, on the other hand, has pledged to “put scientists and public health leaders front and center” and ensure that government scientists “do not fear retribution or public disparagement for performing their jobs.” However, he could face hurdles in implementing his science priorities, depending on which party controls the Senate.

Control of the Senate will likely not be determined until January. The two Georgia Senate races are headed towards runoff elections with no candidate in either contest securing the required 50 percent threshold in votes to win. According to current projections, Democrats will keep their majority in the House of Representatives despite losing some seats. Several congressional candidates and incumbents with science backgrounds are likely to lose their reelection bids. Here is how some of the key science candidates have fared in the elections so far:

  • Representative Sean Casten (D–IL), a biochemical engineer, has defeated the Republican challenger for his seat.
  • Representative Elaine Luria (D–VA), a nuclear engineer, has won against former House member Scott Taylor.
  • Representative Kim Schrier (D–WA), a pediatrician, is leading against her opponent and is expected to retain her seat.
  • Representative Bill Foster (D–IL), a physicist who also chairs the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, has been re-elected for his fifth term.
  • Representative Joe Cunningham (D–SC), an environmental engineer who was elected to the House in 2018, lost his seat to Republican challenger Nancy Mace.
  • Representative Lauren Underwood (D–IL), a former registered nurse and health policy expert, is narrowly leading the Republican challenger, State Senator Jim Oberweis.
  • Nancy Goroff, a chemistry professor at Stony Brook University and Democratic challenger to Representative Lee Zeldin (R–NY) is currently trailing by a significant margin.
  • Kathleen Williams, a water resource management expert from Montana, has lost to Republican Matt Rosendale for a seat on the House.
  • Cameron Webb, a physician and health care advocate, was defeated by Republican Robert Good in Virginia.
  • Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician, has lost to Representative David Schweikert (R–AZ) in Arizona.
  • Democrat Merav Ben-David, who is an ecologist, lost her bid for a Senate seat in Wyoming to former Representative Cynthia Lummis.

Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX) and Frank Lucas (R–OK) will remain Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Representative Haley Stevens (D–MI), who chairs the Subcommittee on Research and Technology, Representative Lizzie Fletcher (D–TX), who chairs the Energy Subcommittee, and Representative Mikie Sherrill (D–NJ), who leads the environmental panel, have also retained their seats. However, Representative Kendra Horn (D–OK), who currently chairs the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, has lost her seat.

In the Senate, two members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee were up for reelection this year. Senator Cory Gardner (R–CO), who is an ardent advocate for research, lost to John Hickenlooper (D). Senator Gary Peters (D–MI) narrowly won against Republican challenger John James.