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Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big

Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-N.Y.) got a glimpse of what's in store for them if there's a blue sweep after watching progressives call for Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein pushes for California secretary of state to replace Harris in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (Calif.) to step down as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Biden has pledged to unite the country, restore comity in Washington and work with Republicans if he is elected president, but the uproar over Feinstein’s brief hug with Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country MORE (R-S.C.) on Thursday is a sign that many on the left will have little patience working with Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (Ky.) next year.

Liberal activists and even some junior Democratic senators are warning against spending too much time trying to compromise with Republicans in 2021 if Democrats win control of both the White House and Senate, which looks increasingly likely.

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They remember the months wasted in 2009 when former President Obama patiently negotiated with GOP leaders to pass a $789 billion fiscal stimulus plan — which in retrospect many Democrats now concede should have been larger to jumpstart an economy that was in recession — and a bipartisan health care reform package, which Senate Republicans refused to endorse in the end.

“You would hope that he learned the lesson from the Obama years,” Bob Borosage, co-founder of Campaign For America’s Future, a liberal advocacy group, said of Biden. “He’s done his closing argument in the campaign around bipartisanship, reaching across the aisle and bringing the country together.”

“It reflects his long pride in himself as being able to work across the aisle. It’s a real concern he might go the wrong way. My fear is not that he goes the wrong way forever but he decides, ‘Let’s try and see if they’re going to operate in good faith,’ as if we haven’t had more than enough proof from Mitch McConnell about what kind of faith he operates in,” he added. 

Biden came under fire during the Democratic primary when he talked about his civil relationships with the late Sens. James Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.), two segregationist Dixiecrats, early in his Senate career.

Biden and Schumer will have to juggle the priorities and political interests of what could be an incoming class of Senate Democratic moderates, such as former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperDemocrats frustrated, GOP jubilant in Senate fight Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  MORE, Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE, former astronaut Mark Kelly and Maine Speaker of the Statehouse Sara Gideon, with liberal firebrands like Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCan Biden find a third way between Trumpism and Obama-era globalism? Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity Schwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Sanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Progressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal MORE (I-Vt.) and their progressive allies.

One of the biggest questions will be how aggressively to move on health care, which Schumer is making Democrats’ top issue in 2020. Senators are debating whether to focus on repairing the damage Republicans wrought under President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE to the Affordable Care Act, or push bolder ideas, like the public option or expanding Medicare to people aged 55 and over. There’s also a debate over how quickly to move on the issue. 

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Some Democratic moderates are already pushing back against the demands of liberal activists.

One Senate Democratic aide warned that incoming Democratic senators who narrowly defeat GOP incumbents can’t be expected to embrace proposals like filibuster reform as soon as they get to Washington. 

The aide, responding to the harsh criticism of Feinstein, said “people who are saying we should fight more are a loud subset of the Twitter-verse” who “don’t know anything about winning elections or Senate procedure” and who “are trying to raise money.”

The aide noted that Kelly, who is running in a special election against Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGabby Giffords congratulates Mark Kelly with throwback photo of her own swearing-in Mark Kelly sworn in to Senate seat Sen.-elect Mark Kelly visits John McCain's grave ahead of swearing-in MORE (R-Ariz.), will be up for reelection in 2022, when the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSmearing presidential election will turn off young voters and undermine democracy Choking — not cheating — was Trump's undoing Gabby Giffords congratulates Mark Kelly with throwback photo of her own swearing-in MORE’s (R-Ariz.) term is set to expire. McSally was appointed to fill McCain’s seat after he died. 

The desire not to work with Republicans was on full display Thursday after Feinstein’s praise of Graham’s leadership, when she expressed hope about working on bipartisan legislation in the future, sparked outrage on the left.

Demand Justice, a group co-founded by Brian Fallon, a former Schumer aide, and other prominent voices on the left, called on Feinstein to step down as the top Democrat on the committee.

NARAL Pro-Choice America on Friday accused Feinstein of lending “credibility” to Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Supreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs MORE’s confirmation hearings, which it called “unprecedented, shameful and wrong.”

“As such, we believe the committee needs new leadership,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement.

Senate Democratic aides say they doubt Schumer would move to demote Feinstein after the election if Senate Democrats win the majority, but they acknowledge he will be under some pressure to do so.

Committee chairs in the Democratic caucus are based on seniority in each committee and approved of through a caucus vote.

“I can see the outside groups doing something and if anything happens, it’s possible that Chuck could persuade her to hand over the gavel if we become the majority. But I think that persuasion effort is going to be really challenging,” said a second Senate Democratic aide. 

“If we stay in the minority, nobody’s going to do a damn thing,” the aide added, but warned that if Democrats are in control, there will be a lot of pressure on how Feinstein runs the committee.

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Feinstein’s moment of collegiality with Graham angered many liberals and Democratic activists, prompting calls for a shakeup of the Democratic establishment and new leadership voices. 

Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America, a liberal grass-roots advocacy group, said Feinstein’s praise of Graham while Republicans are in the process of ramming Trump’s conservative Supreme Court nominee through the Senate as quickly as possible was a poke in the eye.

“It’s a burn from a broken Democratic establishment in the United States Senate that underscores who in the Democratic Party has been obstructing the reforms that need to happen in the Senate to make it a functional institution at this point and why those people shouldn’t be in power anymore,” Sroka said.

Another headache for Schumer is how to deal with liberal colleagues and outside activists who will immediately call for filibuster reform if Democrats win back the White House and Senate.

Borosage said if Biden is in the Oval Office and Schumer becomes majority leader, the push for filibuster reform will be “immediate and fierce” and “pushed by a whole coalition of grassroots groups with lots of pressure on senators.”

“It will be very fast. It will happen immediately,” he said. “There’s no question people don’t have any desire to go back through what Obama did, where you fritter away your majority in idle pursuit of supposedly moderate Republican votes.”

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Schumer has repeatedly deflected questions about whether he would support scrapping the Senate filibuster, arguing that Democrats first need to find out whether they will be in the majority and how big their majority might be.

Schumer could also face calls from Democratic colleagues to share more power throughout the caucus. While he expanded the Democratic leadership team when he took over as Senate minority leader after the 2017 elections, much of what Senate Democrats do is coordinated through his office.

“They do need to do a better job of distributing power, including Schumer,” Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Senate Democrats press VA for vaccine distribution plan President is wild card as shutdown fears grow MORE (D-Mont.) told The Hill last month, when asked what Democrats needed to do differently for Barrett’s confirmation hearing after the bitter partisan fight over Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Supreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs For Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court upholds religious liberty MORE in 2018.

The scorched-earth approach that some critics felt Senate Democrats employed against Kavanaugh revved up conservative voters and may have helped Republicans oust former Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump Democrats must turn around Utah police arrest man driving 130 mph claiming he was going to kill former Missouri senator MORE (D-Mo.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty MORE (D-Ind.).

“The power is centralized for sure in the leader’s office,” said another Senate Democratic aide. “I think there will be some rabble-rousing among members.”