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Senate Democrats brace for Trump era

Senate Democrats brace for Trump era
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Democrats are bracing for the unknown as they barrel toward the formal start of the Trump era.

Friday marks the opening of the first unified GOP government in roughly a decade. It will also be the first time that almost two-dozen Democratic senators — about half the caucus — elected during President Obama's tenure will serve under a Republican president.

The coming strategy for Democratic lawmakers boils down to a dual-pronged approach: Offering Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE an olive branch on potential areas where they could work together, while trying to rally public support when they think the president-elect steps over the line.

“When they hear the outcry from the public … they get a little nervous and sometimes back off,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives MORE (D-N.Y.) said of the incoming Trump team on a Tuesday conference call.

Democrats’ pledge to stand up to Trump was on full display Tuesday as they blasted his nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), and focused pointed questions on Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos at her evening confirmation hearing.

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They’re also gearing up for a battle over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMark Cuban: ProPublica 'not being honest' about taxes on wealthy On The Money: Bipartisan Senate group rules out tax hikes on infrastructure | New report reignites push for wealth tax New report reignites push for wealth tax MORE (D-Mass.) saying firing Director Richard Cordray would be akin to Trump “kissing the boots” of payday lenders and big banks.

Democrats — in a strategy laid out by Schumer during his first speech as minority leader — are planning to try to leverage their limited power to keep Trump accountable to the populist promises he made during his campaign.

Republicans and the Trump administration will need the support of at least eight Democratic senators to get their ambitious legislative agenda through Congress.

But those lawmakers are heading into Friday’s inauguration deeply uncertain of what to expect from the incoming administration and how much influence they might have over the president elect.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyAntsy Democrats warn of infrastructure time crunch 'The era of bipartisanship is over': Senate hits rough patch Senate gun background check talks hit wall MORE (D-Conn.) laughed when asked how willing he thinks Trump will be to work with Democrats.

"There's no sign he's willing to work with Democrats right now. I mean his conduct has been juvenile since the election," he told The Hill.

While Murphy said he’s open to working with Trump on issues such as infrastructure, "the hope I had after the election has very quickly been dashed."

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military Democrats try to pin down Manchin on voting rights MORE (D-Va.) separately said he would "look for opportunities" to work with Trump.

But the former vice presidential candidate hedged, noting he couldn't predict what the administration would prioritize "out of the gate" and pointing to the GOP push to repeal ObamaCare as a "catastrophe."

Muddying the water for Democrats are Trump’s Cabinet picks, many of whom have publicly differed from Trump on key policy proposals.

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Overnight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US MORE (D-Ill.) said his sit-downs with Trump’s nominees have left him “puzzled” about what to expect from the incoming administration.

“I don’t know. We just don’t know,” he said when asked if Trump’s nominees are out of line with the president-elect.

“This man reinvented campaign politics ... and now he’s sending his team in and there are so many unanswered questions.”

Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Bipartisan senators introduce bill to protect small businesses from cyberattacks China conducts amphibious landing drill near Taiwan after senators' visit MORE (D-Del.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed Durbin after a meeting with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s pick for ambassador to the United Nations.

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Coons said it’s “significant” that Trump’s nominees are breaking with him on national security issues, including Russia and torture, but demurred on whether he thinks they might change Trump’s positions.

“That’s really up to the president, isn’t it?” he said when asked if he thinks Trump will listen to his Cabinet.

Murphy added that while “some of these nominees don’t seem to be a part of the same administration ... they’re going to be shackled to his policy once he’s sworn in.”

Republicans are pressing Democrats to work with the president-elect, hoping to mitigate the looming fight over Trump's Cabinet nominees.

“They should not delay for just delay's sake, which unfortunately some have threatened to do," Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynBipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal McConnell: 'Good chance' for infrastructure deal after talks unravel MORE (R-Texas) said from the Senate floor. "[Delaying] won't help this new administration, won't make America a safer place, and it will make us more vulnerable.”

Vice President-elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOn The Money: Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal, warn of time crunch Pence buys .9M home in Indiana Pence to visit Iowa to headline event for congressman MORE, a former lawmaker with deep ties to Capitol Hill, has been meeting with Democrats to build bridges, including with Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate filibuster fight throws Democrats' wish list into limbo Parliamentarian changes Senate calculus for Biden agenda Top union unveils national town hall strategy to push Biden's jobs plan MORE (Pa.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Bill Maher blasts removal of journalist at Teen Vogue Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (N.D.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein'If this thing qualifies, I'm toast': An oral history of the Gray Davis recall in California The big myths about recall elections Concerns over growing ties between UAE and China could impact sale of F-35s: report MORE (Calif.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemings raises million after announcing Senate bid against Rubio Russia threatens to leave International Space Station program over US sanctions Nikki Fried, only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, launches challenge to DeSantis MORE (Fla.) on Tuesday.

Others, ranging from conservative Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy the Democrats need Joe Manchin Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives MORE (D-W.Va.) to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Biden seeks to reassert US climate leadership | President to 'repeal or replace' Trump decision removing protections for Tongass | Administration proposes its first offshore wind lease sale On The Money: Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal, warn of time crunch Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives MORE (I-Vt.), have indicated that they won't say "no" to a proposal just because it's supported by Trump.

Some even see areas of common ground with the incoming administration.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownDemocrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Biden 'allies' painting him into a corner MORE (D-Ohio), for example, said he's with the Trump team "on trade issues, infrastructure if they're genuine."

"[But] I have trouble with a lot of their nominees who want to undo the mission ... that they were hired for," he added.