Reid faces challenges as Senate Dems transition to minority

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE faces a tough task as his conference transitions to the Senate minority next year.

The Nevada Democrat is leading a divided party smarting from a midterm election that saw Senate Democrats lose eight seats.

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It includes a number of centrists who could be eager to cut deals with the new GOP majority, particularly after watching several centrist incumbents fall in the 2014 midterms.

But Reid must also lead liberals hoping to give Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.), who many Democrats viewed as an obstructionist over the last several years, a taste of his own medicine.

Reid must balance those interests, all while setting up his party to retake the majority in 2016, when a favorable map leaves Senate Republicans defending 24 seats, including several in states that would seem favorable to Democratic candidates.

And Reid must do so while preparing for his own reelection fight, which could be a tough contest against Nevada GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

So far, Reid has struck a conciliatory tone, diverging from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

Reid announced Tuesday that he would accept an omnibus spending bill crafted by House Republicans that would only fund the Department of Homeland Security for a few months, setting up a fight over immigration early next year.

Pelosi, by contrast, said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) should not count on Democrats to help pass the bill.

The senior Nevada Democrat has pledged not to retaliate against Republicans by blocking their legislative initiatives willy-nilly. But he does not plan to capitulate his party’s core principles, either, according to Senate Democratic sources. 

Next year, Republicans will seek to pass tax reform, trade deals, healthcare reforms and energy legislation that will test Democratic unity.

“It’ll be interesting to watch to see how tightly they hang together,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho). “I would suspect that those that are up in two years can hear footsteps and will be a lot more thoughtful about the process.”

Reid and other Democrats will remember the first few years of President George W. Bush’s administration, when Democratic defectors allowed Republicans to pass $1.7 trillion in tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Although President Obama and his veto pen provide a backstop now, any legislation that makes it to his desk gives the GOP a starting point for future negotiations.

At a special two-hour meeting of the Senate Democratic caucus Wednesday to discuss the 2015 strategy, “there was a pretty consistent view across the ideological spectrum that we should seek common ground on things that benefits the middle class but not abandon our principles,” said a senior Democratic aide. 

“Not a single person said we should cut deals for the sake of cutting deals,” the aide added.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) said whether Democrats work with Republicans next year will depend largely on how McConnell runs the chamber.

“The feeling on our side is, there are some issues that are just basic differences between the parties that are not likely to be bridged,” he said. “I’ve heard from a lot of my colleagues, there’s also a sentiment that says, if there’s a way to work in a bipartisan fashion, they want to try to pursue it.”

Durbin called the 2010 Affordable Care Act a “delicate, tough area,” where it would be difficult to find compromise but said energy legislation might find more common ground.

McConnell hopes to pick off enough Democrats to muster 60 votes to repeal ObamaCare’s medical device tax next year, but Democratic leaders will argue that the approximately $30 billion cost of doing so should be offset, which would make it more difficult to pass.

“I’ve always said [it should be] paid for,” Durbin said. “We’re looking to see if they’re still budget hawks, when they’re in the majority.”

He predicted that Reid would be able to keep the caucus unified on major votes.

“The last time I remember that I was the whip and [Republicans] were in the majority, we had 45 votes,” Durbin recalled. “I looked back at the two-year period of time, and we didn’t lose a single vote that we decided to make a stand.”

“We were always able to come up with 41,” he said.

Whether Reid whips Democrats to band together and filibuster GOP legislation will depend largely on whether McConnell allows the minority party to vote on amendments, as he has promised.

Reid also must calibrate his newly expanded leadership team, which now includes liberal favorite Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief's meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating Overnight Tech: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court fight | Warren backs bid to block AT&T, Time Warner merger | NC county refuses to pay ransom to hackers Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (D-W.Va.) and centrist Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Comey back in the spotlight after Flynn makes a deal Warner: Every week another shoe drops in Russia investigation MORE (D-Va.).

Warner was one of six Democrats to vote last month for a new leader instead of Reid.

“It’s intriguing to think how the leadership team is going to work going forward,” said another senior Democratic aide. “How is Reid going to make it operational? Who is going to have real influence?”

Reid’s team represents a microcosm of the challenges he faces across the broader conference. Warren will push the party to take more populist stances while Warner will pursue deals with the GOP. Three years ago, Warner played a central role in forming an ad-hoc bipartisan group to pursue an ambitious deficit-reduction deal.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to make the U.S. Senate a place, where real work gets done to solve the challenges facing the American people,” Warner said after receiving his promotion to the leadership.