WASHINGTON — Rep. Zoe Lofgren spent her summer doing "a very nerdlike" line-by-line reading of the 55-year-old law that governs U.S. immigration policy in anticipation of widespread Democratic election wins that would give her party the ability to enact a massive immigration overhaul next year.
But in the face of unexpected Democratic losses, Lofgren, D-Calif., and other Democrats are now in the process of recalibrating their expectations on a wide variety of issues, such as immigration, health care and climate change.
"I believed the pollsters when they said that the Republicans had only a 25% chance of keeping the Senate and that Democrats would pick up seats" in the House, Lofgren said. Now "I don't know that we're going to have the opportunity to do that with the very thin margins."
While congressional Democrats are buoyant that President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump, they're wrestling with the reality that Republicans will be more powerful in Washington next year than they had expected.
Republicans will retain control of the Senate if they win just one of two Georgia seats in by two uphill runoff elections on Jan. 5. But even if Democrats win both, there will be a 50-50 split in which Democrats could not afford to lose a single vote from their side and Vice President Kamala Harris would have to break every tie.
In the House, Republicans gained seats, making Speaker Nancy Pelosi's job of corralling her historically slim Democratic majority more difficult.
Mindful that Biden's coattails failed to carry several Democrats across the finish line in swing districts, moderates in the party who represent conservative districts could be nervous about supporting liberal policies.
And despite his loss, Trump proved he could get Republicans to the polls on Election Day, meaning he will continue to exert influence.
"Our conference is very loyal to President Trump," said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., incoming chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. "I imagine he will continue to play a role in or out of the White House. Even more important than that, the Trump agenda is a winning agenda with a broad populist appeal. That is something that Republicans will, I think, borrow from for a long time to come to help us win the majority (in the House) in 2022."
In terms of legislation, that means Democrats are scaling back their plans — and their rhetoric.