BALTIMORE — House Democrats have vacated Capitol Hill to contemplate their future in the age of President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE.
Huddled in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for their annual issues retreat, the lawmakers are trying to decipher their dismal performance at the polls last year; to fashion a strategy for returning to power after six years dangling in the minority; and to marshal a united defense of former President Obama’s policy achievements, which have quickly come under fire from Trump and congressional Republicans.
Having a volatile and unpredictable conservative in the White House, party leaders said, has both heightened their urgency and strengthened their resolve.
“I’ve never seen my party more unified in a single goal,” Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Hyatt Regency Baltimore.
“[We’re] fighting to prevent President Trump and congressional Republicans from hurting our country … and, quite frankly, hurting the world.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) suggested the many controversies surrounding Trump lend the Democrats’ an opportunity to convey to voters “how we will be different.”
“The first weeks of the Trump administration have completely exposed the hollowness of the president’s promises to the American people,” she said.
Rep. Lindá Sanchez (Calif.), vice chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus, offered her own version of the message Democrats hope to send.
“Kicking a little ass for the middle class,” she said.
The comment delighted Pelosi, who broke into applause behind Sanchez.
Most of the Democrats’ policy priorities — including immigration reform, tougher gun control laws, a minimum wage hike and universal health coverage — all poll well in national surveys. The Democrats are frustrated that they’ve repeatedly failed to turn the popular support for their agenda into popular support for more of their candidates.
“We are the members that stand up and fight for working families,” Sanchez said. “That message gets lost a lot.”
Pelosi said the rapid pace of the new Trump administration — and the many controversies that have followed his earliest policy moves — risk overshadowing the Democrats’ message. But the burden is on them, she added, “to make the distinctions” between the parties for the sake of attracting more voters.
“It’s an ancient Chinese … theory of war that one of the things you do in order to win a war is to make sure that the other side cannot make its case,” she said. “It is up to us to make sure that the public knows what is happening here … and how it affects them in their lives.”
To be successful, the Democrats need to craft a winning messaging strategy — something they haven’t achieved in the last four cycles. The losing streak sparked a post-election furor among many rank-and-file members, particularly the younger, greener lawmakers, who questioned both the efficacy of their outreach campaign and the wisdom of keeping the same leaders at the top of the party.
Much of that debate raged over the question of why working-class Rust Belt voters flocked so readily to Trump — and whether Democrats need to hone their message to bring those voters back to their side.
The outcry prompted the Democrats to launch an internal examination of their election misfortunes, a move reminiscent of the GOP’s “autopsy” in 2012. The project is headed by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.), who will present his initial findings to the caucus here on Thursday.
The frustrations that launched November’s revolt have largely subsided, especially with the arrival of Trump in the White House. Still, there are early signs that, despite the Democrats’ focus on unity, at least some of those tensions are still bubbling below the surface.
Pelosi, for instance, stepped in this week to tamp down the nascent suggestions to impeach Trump coming from some liberal Democrats, including Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.).
And a host of liberal groups this week sounded off on the Democrats for inviting a leader at Third Way, a centrist think tank, to address the lawmakers at their retreat.
Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said the group is “on the corporate fringe of the Democratic Party and should not be given precious time” with the Democrats.
“Whatever lessons Democrats should learn after losing to Donald Trump, Third Way urges Democrats to go in the exact opposite direction,” Green said. “They peddle Wall Street talking points and urge timidity at a time Democrats need to fight with backbone and not let Trump steal the mantle of economic populism.”
Third Way co-founder Matt Bennett fired back, saying the Democrats need to broaden their message if they ever hope to regain the House.
“The House Democratic Leadership wants to hear from a diversity of voices in the progressive movement,” he said, “because they know that only a big-tent party can return to the majority.”