After rout, Dems plan few changes

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Democrats aren’t planning a shakeup despite the thumping they took at the polls on Tuesday.

Leaders in both the House and the Senate — including Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — are expected to retain their spots atop the party in the next Congress, while the White House, in similar fashion, says it will keep its top staff largely intact.

“The president is somebody who doesn’t make personnel changes just for cosmetic reasons,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.

{mosads}The decision to stick with the status quo sends a clear message that Democrats believe Tuesday’s disastrous outcome was caused by factors beyond their control, and that they see themselves as best suited to steer a comeback.

But it’s also sparked concern among some party operatives and rank-and-file members that the Democrats’ rebound strategy lacks fresh voices, novel ideas and a new public image.

Most of the grumbling is happening behind closed doors, but some are going public with calls for soul-searching in the party.

“Washington always wants you to throw out bodies after a bad election, so you’ll hear that hew and cry,” former White House advisor David Axelrod told MSNBC on Election Day. “People will leave on their own because six years is a long time, but [Obama] also has to say, ‘What went wrong; what went right; what do I need to do to make these next two years successful?’ “ 

“I think that would be a wise thing to do,” he added. 

A Democratic strategist said the unrest is not quite boiling over, but predicted it will gain steam throughout the next Congress before erupting after the 2016 elections.

“My sense is that there is a growing appetite within the [House Democratic] Caucus for, basically, generational change,” the strategist said. “At what point do we say, ‘OK, we’ve exhausted this approach to leadership,’ or, ‘This current leadership has taken us about as far as we can go, we need some new ideas and fresh voices?’ ” 

“There will be a growing chorus of voices over the next couple of years,” the strategist said.

Democrats went into Tuesday’s elections knowing they faced a tough climate, but even GOP strategists didn’t anticipate the lopsidedness of the results. 

In the Senate, the Democrats lost at least seven seats, shifting control of the chamber to the Republicans for the first time in eight years. In the House, the Republicans picked up at least 14 seats and, when all the votes are tallied, could boast their largest majority since the Hoover administration.

Party leaders were quick to note that, historically speaking, they always faced tough odds in the 2014 cycle. They lamented the slew of unsettling international headlines that undermined their economic message — topics as diverse as terrorist beheadings in Syria, Russian incursions into Ukraine and an Ebola epidemic in Africa — and emphasized that Obama’s low approval ratings were beyond their realm of influence. 

“Since we have no control over what’s not in our control we don’t wring our hands over that,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said on election night. 

Israel announced Wednesday that he won’t be returning as head of the DCCC next year.

But among party leaders, he’s the only one bowing out.

Aside from Pelosi, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md), Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C), Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) have already launched bids to keep those spots next year.

A similar trend has occurred in the Senate, where Reid and his top three deputies — Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — are all vying to remain in place.

That means that, of the eight top Democrats that steered the party into Tuesday’s thresher, all eight will likely be in charge of steering the party out. None of them, so far, is facing a challenger.

Meanwhile, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) will remain atop the Democratic National Committee through 2016. 

Republican strategists are gleeful about the prospect of facing the same leaders in the 2016 cycle.

“What’s that they say again about the definition of insanity?” Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for the GOP’s campaign arm, said in an email blast after Pelosi announced her leadership bid. 

Earnest, the White House spokesman, tacitly acknowledged that the optics of keeping the same team in place could be bad — but only in the short term.

“Maybe that would generate a day or two of positive headlines if the president were to satisfy the need to publicly fire a couple of people, but that’s not the way the president operates,” he said.

Thomas Mann, political expert at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said it would be “silly” to replace leaders based on election results that were never going to go the Democrats’ way.

“There’s no gain. It’s too symbolic, too much like everything else in Washington, where the so-called appearance seems to be what’s key, and there’s no evidence that that had anything to do with the results,” Mann said. “This is Politics 101: Midterm elections in tough times and unfavorable geography in the Senate and the president’s party gets creamed. That’s pretty much it.

“Reid and Pelosi are both skillful leaders,” he added. “I think it’d be silly to change leadership now.”  

Still, some Democrats contend that, after the election thrashing the party just took, it would be equally silly to rubber-stamp a leadership team just because it’s currently in place.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), for one, is calling for a delay in the Democrats’ leadership elections, slated for Nov. 18, for “at least a month” to allow members to “take inventory” of the party’s future. 

“I have no person to take anyone’s place, but I would hope my recommendation would be more acceptable this time than it was in 2010, when I said, ‘Hold on, let’s take inventory,'” Pascrell said. “I think it’s wrong if we jump into this decision now, because I think that there’s much more at stake this time.”

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