By Mike Lillis - 01-10-17 13:16 PM EST
House Democrats, buried deep in the chamber's minority, see a silver lining as Republicans are poised to launch an ambitious legislative agenda and President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the White House.
The Democrats say that early GOP divisions on issues as varied as budget deficits, ObamaCare repeal and Russian hacking create a host of political opportunities they are hoping to exploit.
"There's a treasure trove here," Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), the newly installed head of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday after a closed-door meeting in the Capitol. "It's a lot tougher to govern, and that's what they're realizing."
The Democrats are pointing in particular to the Republicans' efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act , President Obama's signature healthcare reform law, without offering an immediate replacement. A growing number of Republicans - including Trump - want the two steps to happen simultaneously in order to limit potential disruptions in insurance markets.
There are also GOP disagreements about the length of delay before a replacement would take effect, with ideas ranging from one to four years. And conservative fiscal hawks in both chambers are calling for more details about the budget effects of the repeal strategy.
"I won't say this often, but even the Freedom Caucus has some helpful suggestions that we [should] learn more about the impact on our nation's budget of the repeal before we act," Crowley said. "They want the dessert before eating the vegetables."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, echoed that message, warning that Republicans' promises to keep some of the most popular benefits under ObamaCare will inevitably fail without sustaining other parts of the law.
"Part of the problems that the Republicans have is that they now have to govern," Cummings said. "They seem to fail to understand that this is like a mosaic, and every piece ... hinges on the other piece."
The Republicans are entering the 115th Congress emboldened by Trump's surprise victory and their grip on both chambers of Congress. But they got off to a rough start when House Republicans, even before the new Congress had launched, voted to gut an independent ethics panel by putting it beneath the oversight of the House Ethics Committee. The move was opposed by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and drew a quick rebuke from Trump, whose campaign had featured vows to "drain the swamp" of corruption.
Faced with the backlash, GOP leaders quickly killed the amendment.
GOP leaders are also walking a tightrope in their approach to Russia's hacking of the Democratic Party organs, as well as Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, in an effort to influence the U.S. elections.
The nation's intelligence agencies are unified in their assessment that Moscow - directed by President Vladimir Putin - leaked stolen Democratic campaign documents for the purpose of helping Trump win the White House, and several powerful Senate Republicans have joined Democrats in calling for an independent investigation of the episode.
But Trump has rejected the agencies' conclusions, and GOP leaders in both chambers, who oppose the creation of a select committee, have been put in the awkward spot of defending the president-elect's friendly approach to the Russian autocrat.
Democrats have pounced. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, called the hacking an "assault on our democracy that 'Moscow Donald' doesn't seem to want to look into further, or accept."
And Crowley is predicting the discord across the aisle will only grow more pronounced as new details emerge about Trump's global financial interests - information the president-elect has refused to divulge.
"He is the king of conflicts of interest," Crowley charged.
"We don't know why he is taking the positions he has taken as it pertains to our intelligence community, and rejecting their findings," he added. "Russia is not our friend."