Bickering Democrats return with divisions | TheHill – The Hill

House Democrats returned to Washington this week licking their wounds after a demoralizing election performance and seeking ways to cool simmering internal tensions heading into the next Congress.

After predicting big gains to pad their majority, the party suffered the loss of at least 10 sitting members, with several more expected, and failed to knock off even a single Republican incumbent — something that was virtually unthinkable heading into Nov. 3.

The disappointing results have sparked an internal reckoning, one that has featured moderates blaming liberals for botching the party’s message; liberals pushing back in defense of efforts to energize the progressive base; and lawmakers of all stripes growing increasingly frustrated that the post-election finger-pointing has spilled into public view.


“The hardest part about that is finding the forum to just talk it through,” Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanLobbying world OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill MORE (D-Calif.) said Monday. “These are not insurmountable differences. We’re all on the same team and I am convinced that, frankly, it’s a pretty easy fix if we can just hear each other out and work it through. It’s hard to do that on a super-leaky caucus call, and with all the outside folks just delighting in any hint of conflict.

“That’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Caught in the middle are Democratic leaders, who are scrambling to decipher what went wrong on Nov. 3 and how to turn down the heat to help facilitate their legislative and political goals in the coming months.

In a letter to Democrats on Monday, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPrinceton history professor says Biden won with unstable Democratic coalition Klain: COVID-19 relief could be first example of post-election bipartisan action Fears of double-dip recession rise alongside COVID-19 cases MORE (D-Calif.) appealed for unity, warning that internal divisions would only empower Republicans, undermine the Democrats’ chances to move another round of coronavirus relief in the lame-duck session, and threaten the party’s prospects in a pair of upcoming special Senate elections in Georgia.

“We advocate because we believe we can convince others of our point of view. If we advocate to unify, we can prevail,” Pelosi wrote. 

“Our Caucus draws strength from the ongoing conversations that we continuously have to build consensus and ensure that the legislation we put forward is respectful of the thinking and values of all Members,” she added. “I look forward to our continuing this productive dialogue.”


Some of that “productive dialogue” has taken a turn for the acrimonious. Some moderates, such as Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerWarner blames Democratic losses on ‘defund the police’ Pelosi faces caucus divisions in Biden era Ocasio-Cortez tweets displeasure of Manchin after he attacks ‘crazy socialist agenda’ MORE (D), a Virginia lawmaker who scraped her way to a second-term victory this month, have warned that the favored agenda of their far-left colleagues — including efforts to ban fracking, adopt single-payer health care and shift police funding to community services — jeopardized virtually every vulnerable centrist Democrat in the caucus.

“We lost members who shouldn’t have lost,” Spanberger said during a caucus call several days after the election, the audio of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

Progressives fired back, arguing that their platform had energized the party’s base, thereby greasing the skids to President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhitmer responds to Atlas: I won’t ‘be bullied into not following reputable scientists’ Obama: US ‘adversaries have seen us weakened’ Obama describes wife Michelle’s resistance to presidential ambitions MORE’s defeat — the Democrats’ primary goal this cycle.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezProgressive House Democrats to host health care strategy session The Memo: Divided Democrats search for common ground Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year MORE (D-N.Y.), a liberal social media superstar, has gone a step further, criticizing party leaders and campaign operatives for what she considered a lackluster digital outreach strategy. And other liberals have cautioned that abandoning the liberal agenda risks making the party irrelevant in the future by alienating younger voters drawn to those left-leaning policies.

“The future, I think, is clearly [a] multiracial, multiethnic progressive future,” Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaReestablishing American prosperity by investing in the ‘Badger Belt’ House Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Biden says he opposes Supreme Court term limits MORE (D-Calif.), a prominent member of the Progressive Caucus, said Sunday in an interview with MSNBC. “That’s where the base is, that’s where young people are.”

Other lawmakers were quick to note that Democrats kept the gavel, won the White House and made gains in the Senate, even if the congressional results came in below expectations.

“These are political campaigns; every state is different,” said Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldCongress must protect kidney disease patients during the COVID-19 pandemic The time for HELP is now: Senate should pass bill to expedite recovery following natural disasters Rep. Clyburn on Confederate statues: Mob action is no answer MORE (D-N.C.). “But the takeaway is that we’re still in the [House] majority.”

Still, for a party forecasting a clean sweep on Nov. 3 — including the defeat of House Republicans deep in Trump country — it was a disappointing evening. And their slimmer House majority has nipped away at the cushion allowing Democratic defections on legislation, potentially complicating efforts to move certain bills through the lower chamber in the next Congress.

The political fallout, though, has been more immediate.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosPelosi faces caucus divisions in Biden era The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump battles ballots; vaccine news boosts markets Two lawmakers announce bids to succeed Bustos at DCCC MORE (D-Ill.) fell on her sword after her party’s poor showing and said she would not seek a second term leading the campaign operation. But Pelosi, 80, also has been taking some incoming fire, even as no one has mounted a challenge against her as she seeks another term with the gavel.

Freshman centrist Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinQuestions swirl at Pentagon after wave of departures Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military ‘remains strong’ despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick New Pentagon chief says military ‘remains strong’ following leadership purge MORE (D-Mich.), who won her tough reelection fight by less than 4 percentage points, told Politico she would not back the Speaker for another two-year term and called for “new leadership” in the party. And a handful of other moderates have told The Hill they, too, want to see Pelosi gone.

These moderates were particularly perturbed last week when Bustos and Pelosi hosted a second private conference call on the campaign results, yet declined to address members’ concerns that the GOP had successfully tarred vulnerable Democrats as supportive of defunding the police, banning fracking, and socialism.


“Accepting responsibility for failure is a rare attribute in Congress. The message went from, ‘we could gain over 10 seats and are pushing deep into GOP territory’ to an effort to put lipstick on a pig,” one frustrated centrist Democrat on the call told The Hill. “ ‘Bad polling, bigger headwinds than anyone recognized, and it was always going to be hard to hold those seats’ became the excuse. Nothing about poor messaging, misguided strategy or the inability to defend against the tags of socialism and defunding the police.”

Republicans have already knocked off 10 Democratic incumbents: the longtime Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonHere are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Biden could lose Georgia Senate races all by himself Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (D-Minn.), the Agriculture Committee chairman, as well as nine freshmen who had flipped GOP seats in the 2018 wave election. The 10th, Rep. Max RoseMax RoseHere are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Democratic Rep. Max Rose concedes New York House race McCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 MORE (D-N.Y.), who represents Staten Island, has conceded to his Republican challenger, Nicole Malliotakis, but the race has not yet been called.

Still, an overwhelming majority of the caucus appears to remain supportive of leadership, thrilled with Biden’s victory — and ready to move beyond the current factional flare ups.

“To me the big thing is: We won the presidency; we held the House; we gained ground in the Senate. This glass is at least half full. It’s just not as full as we wished,” said Huffman. “I think we will move on here pretty quickly.”

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