"People were talking in a really cocky way before that Democrats were going to take the trifecta (White House, Senate and House), and we were not ever going to talk to Republicans about anything. We were going to ram all this policy down their throats," said Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., a moderate.
Ambitious liberal policies such as "Medicare for All" and the Green New Deal are likely to be pushed to a back burner, though Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and other progressives have signaled they will continue to advocate for their movement.
Pelosi, D-Calif., had said before the election that Democrats would expand the Affordable Care Act by using a special procedure in the Senate that required only 50 votes, but it's unclear now she will have even that.
Up first for the new Congress will be a COVID-19 stimulus bill, unless Congress is able to break the current stalemate and reverse course on failed negotiations to enact it this year. Other bipartisan measures under discussion are infrastructure — including roads, water projects and broadband internet — as well as ending criminalization of marijuana at the federal level.
With a handful of House races uncalled, Democrats could be facing a House majority as small as 222, just a few more than the 218 votes needed to pass legislation. As a result, Democratic leaders are considering changes to make it easier to manage a smaller majority.
Democrats are hoping to reinstate so-called earmarks, or special perks tucked into larger spending bills that benefit a specific recipient, such as a congressional district or institution.
While the practice has been abused in the past, it has also been credited with easing the passage of important legislation by offering targeted incentives to win the support of key lawmakers. Democrats are also considering changing the rules around a procedural tactic the minority can use to slow down legislation in the House by forcing a type of amendment vote on legislation.
In the Senate, Democrats will have a chance to advance their agenda only if they win the two Georgia seats. Otherwise Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will be able to block their efforts.
Recalling that McConnell once vowed to do everything he could to make President Barack Obama a one-term president, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., questioned whether McConnell would do the same with Biden, saying it would not be "conducive for productive work in the Senate" if he did.
Democrats will inevitably lean heavily on the Biden administration to use executive authority to make policy changes they can't get through Congress, such as rejoining the Paris agreement to address climate change.