Democrats could face culture shock

If the Senate goes Republican on Tuesday, a majority of Democrats will get their first taste of life in the minority.

Only 17 Democrats who could serve in the next Senate were in office eight years ago, the last time the GOP held the levers of power.


With Republicans favored on Election Day, the new class of Democrats might be in for a rude awakening come January, when the perks of the majority could be stripped away.

"It will be a shock for Democrats to move into the minority," said Jim Manley, a former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden fails to break GOP 'fever' Nevada governor signs law making state first presidential primary Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms MORE (D-Nev.).

The indignities of serving under the opposing party are legion.

The first blow is the loss of committee chairmanships, which senators use to draft legislation, conduct oversight and draw attention to pet causes.

Democrats would be demoted to the ranking members of committees and forced to downsize by letting go of staffers who aren’t wanted on the new majority’s payroll.

Perhaps worst of all, some Democrats would have to pack up their things as Republicans dole out the spoils of office space.

“That’s a major issue for many senior members,” said Bill Hoagland, a former Republican budget staffer and now senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Still, it’s better to be in the minority in the Senate than in House, where the floor is tightly controlled and rank-and-file members can often do little more than raise their voice in protest during floor speeches.

The Senate, in contrast, runs on consensus, giving individual senators the power to hold up legislation, block nominees, and occasionally hold up business with an old-fashioned talking filibuster.

“To get attention, [Democrats] will have to spend more time on the floor,” said Steve Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “This isn’t much fun.”

Democrats could have revenge on their minds, as they have complained bitterly during the Obama presidency that Republicans have abused the power of the filibuster for partisan ends.

While Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-Ky.), the heir apparent to the top job, would have new procedural weapons at his disposal in the majority, Democrats are likely to insist on 60 votes for most pieces of legislation, ensuring that work on a single bill eats up days of floor time.

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said procedural moves won’t carry McConnell very far “because there’s no way to get to 60 votes.”

“There’s no light and the tunnel is very long,” he said. 

Smith said the one constant in the Senate if power flips would be the deep divide between the parties.

“The partisanship and gridlock will continue, but with a change in party control the nuances of their everyday political rhetoric will change,” Smith said. 

Hoagland offered a more optimistic take, and said Democrats might be shocked to find that GOP leaders are more than willing to listen to their ideas and give them a hand in legislating.

He predicted GOP leaders in the Senate would open up the floor process, giving some newer Democratic members a chance to have more input.

“Senate Democrats who haven’t had a chance to participate in the process and haven’t had that open debate may be a little bit in shock,” he said. 

Hoagland said he expects that a Republican Congress would push forward on approving a budget, giving newer Senate Democrats a chance to participate in a full-fledged vote-a-rama, a budget conference and even the reconciliation process. 

Smith said Democratic leaders would likely try to present a united front against the GOP agenda, but might struggle to keep some moderate members from breaking ranks, particularly the ones who are up for reelection in 2016.

“Democrats will try to keep their party disciplined in their opposition to the Republicans, but they will be disappointed from time to time that a handful of Democrats are willing to play ball with the Republicans, who will be dealing with them to acquire votes for cloture,” Smith said.  

And while Republicans have condemned many of Reid’s tactics in the minority, comparing them to a dictatorship, they might find themselves resorting to the same tools to thwart legislative mischief.

“[Democrats] will spend a considerable amount of time fashioning floor amendments to force Republicans to vote on their agenda, and they will be frustrated when Republicans fill the amendment tree and otherwise block their efforts to do so," Smith said. 

But while life in the minority would bring frustration, Democrats could take comfort in the fact that, for them, it might not last long.

In 2016, 24 Republican senators are up for reelection, while only 10 Democrats are  — a disparity that most political handicappers say will be difficult, if not impossible, for the GOP to overcome. 

“The feeling for Democrats is, suck it up for two years and then come roaring back,” Baker said. 

Senate Democrats who served in the minority in 2006 and could return for the 114th Congress: 

1.      Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBottom line Trump administration halting imports of cotton, tomatoes from Uighur region of China Biden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status MORE, California

2.      Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate Democrats threaten to block 2026 World Cup funds unless women's soccer team get equal pay Senate confirms Biden's top scientist Senate chaos: Johnson delays exit as votes pushed to Friday MORE, Washington

3.      Thomas Carper, Delaware

4.      Richard DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave MORE, Illinois

5.      Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein Youth climate activists march outside California homes of Pelosi and Feinstein Cosmetic chemicals need a makeover MORE, California

6.      Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE, Louisiana (close race)

7.      Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyShelby signals GOP can accept Biden's .5T with more for defense Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Biden budget expands government's role in economy MORE, Vermont

8.      Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSchumer says Senate will vote on repealing 2002 war authorization The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week Sanders drops bid to block Biden's Israel arms sale MORE, New Jersey

9.      Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line MORE, Maryland

10.     Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPublic option fades with little outcry from progressives Senate GOP blocks bill to combat gender pay gap OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden suspends Arctic oil leases issued under Trump |  Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season | Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps MORE, Washington

11.     Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA's sudden interest in Venus is all about climate change Demings raises million after announcing Senate bid against Rubio Russia threatens to leave International Space Station program over US sanctions MORE, Florida

12.     Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE, Arkansas (close race)

13.     Jack ReedJack ReedOur new praetorian guard? Progressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein Gillibrand: Military must make changes beyond sexual assault cases MORE, Rhode Island

14.     Harry Reid, Nevada

15.     Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE, New York

16.     Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowExcellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions Senate crafts Pelosi alternative on drug prices Lobbying world MORE, Michigan

17.     Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population Wyden warns: 'Today's fires are not your grandfather's wildfires' Hillicon Valley: Cyber agency says SolarWinds hack could have been deterred | Civil rights groups urge lawmakers to crack down on Amazon's 'dangerous' worker surveillance | Manchin-led committee puts forth sprawling energy infrastructure proposal MORE, Oregon