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 ReidSanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan Glamorization of the filibuster must end Schumer won't rule out killing filibuster 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 McConnellThe Mueller report is a deterrent to government service Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age 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 BoxerOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list MORE, California

2.      Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellMore than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington State rules complicate push for federal data privacy law MORE, Washington

3.      Thomas Carper, Delaware

4.      Richard DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal MORE, Illinois

5.      Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions Five takeaways from Mueller's report Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE, California

6.      Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuDems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world Former New Orleans mayor: It's not my 'intention' to run for president MORE, Louisiana (close race)

7.      Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' 20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release MORE, Vermont

8.      Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange MORE, New Jersey

9.      Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar Bottom Line MORE, Maryland

10.     Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE, Washington

11.     Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTrump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances MORE, Florida

12.     Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE, Arkansas (close race)

13.     Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis Reed Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal Barr says 'spying' took place on Trump campaign MORE, Rhode Island

14.     Harry Reid, Nevada

15.     Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference MORE, New York

16.     Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit MORE, Michigan

17.     Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech MORE, Oregon