House Dems to perform election autopsy

House Dems to perform election autopsy
© Greg Nash

House Democrats are poised to launch an internal examination into their poor performance at the polls this year, a move reminiscent of the GOP's "autopsy" in 2012.

Headed by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) at the request of Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who leads the party's campaign arm, the probe is designed to get the Democrats back on a winning track after six years in the minority wilderness.

It's also had the more immediate effect of placating Maloney, who just a day ago was considering a bid to unseat Luján atop the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) but has since decided to forgo the challenge.

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"I believe in my heart that he's a good person [and] he's doing a great job," Maloney said Friday, when asked why he's joining Luján instead of running against him.

"Like all of us, he deserves to have help and support, and if I can bring some expertise to that, working in partnership with him, I think that's a lot better than having some big fight and some big negative conversation that starts to become more about ego or people's career objectives," Maloney added.

"My goal is to make him even stronger, and to give him the tools and information he deserves to know what happened, what went well, what didn't, and to move forward with that knowledge and some reform if needed."

Luján described the examination as "a deep dive" into the DCCC to determine "how you can fine-tune any and all responsibilities and operations."

The move comes at the end of a turbulent week for the Democrats — one that saw House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repel a rare challenge to her leadership spot, then reluctantly accept internal caucus reforms designed to empower rank-and-file lawmakers. The changes include the creation of several new leadership posts reserved for junior members.

"These are substantial places," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol on Friday. "It took me 15 years probably to get to the leadership table. These people get there in freshman year or a couple of terms."

"I'm practically liberated by it, because more people want to take responsibility and in no way would they consider this lower-level [position]," she added. "It's a big honor."

Among the internal changes was making the DCCC chairmanship an elected position, rather than the top-down appointment it was previously. That election is scheduled for Monday; Luján, who has held the job for the past two years, is so far running unopposed, and party leaders aren't expecting any challengers after Maloney chose not to run.

"It can happen, but I don't anticipate it," Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), the incoming Caucus chairman, said Friday after a closed-door meeting of the group in the Capitol.

A number of Democrats said allowing all lawmakers to choose the DCCC spot will make the party's campaign chief directly accountable to the entire caucus, in lieu of just Pelosi, and empower the DCCC leader to shake up the campaign office amid growing lawmaker criticism that veteran staffers have hampered progress.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a leader of the Democrats' reform movement, said keeping Luján in place makes sense, "because we truly believe that he never headed the DCCC."

"He did his best to actually manage the relationship between DCCC, Democratic members of Congress, and Leader Pelosi and her staff that were working at the DCCC. And he did a great job considering the constraints," Gallego said Friday. "We realize that it's also unfair to blame him for the direction of the DCCC when systematically that staff of the DCCC, starting from the top, and almost all the way through middle-management, has been nothing but bureaucratic and ineffective for many, many years.

"He wasn't given the time or the power to get rid of them."

At their meeting Friday, the Democrats named Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) as the leaders of their Steering and Policy Committee. Appointed by Pelosi, both lawmakers are close allies of the minority leader.

The lawmakers also decided the ranking member spots on four major committees: Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) will remain the top Democrat on Appropriations; Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) will keep his spot on Energy and Commerce; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will remain the ranking member of Financial Services; and Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) will move up to become ranking member of the Ways and Means panel.

The Ways and Means spot was vacated after Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) stepped out of the post and Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCalifornia to sue Trump over border wall emergency declaration Overnight Energy: Court rules for Trump in environmental case over border wall | House bill would stop Alaska refuge drilling | Ads target Dems over Green New Deal Appeals court sides with Trump in border wall prototype dispute MORE (D-Calif.), who was expected to challenge the more senior Neal, decided instead to accept the attorney general position in his home state of California.

Aside from Luján's seat, the Democrats on Monday will also vote to decide three newly created co-chairmanship posts for the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), as well as a new leadership spot for one member who's served fewer than five terms.

Maloney, meanwhile, said he intends to launch his probe into the election "immediately," with plans to report preliminary findings to the caucus in February, when the Democrats stage their annual issues conference. He expects to get a staff and a budget, he said, and work closely with Luján to seek "the maximum input possible" from lawmakers, consultants and other players in the campaign.

Asked what they'll be looking at, Maloney said "absolutely everything."

"From the finances, to the DCCC, to the use of external consultants and technology venders, to the staff and the organizational structure — there are absolutely no limitations on the review," Maloney said.

"It is soup-to-nuts, as it should be," he said. "We believe that we can get better, and this is a specific plan to do so."