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Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems

A blue wave in November could do more than knock out the House GOP’s majority — it could also cause turmoil within the Democratic caucus next year.

As a progressive wave grips the party — producing upset primary wins in places like Boston and the Bronx — Democrats are bracing for their own version of the Tea Party insurgency that swept House Republicans back to power in 2010.

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The GOP conference eventually found itself consumed by infighting as the far-right continually clashed with leadership over the direction of their party, leading to the birth of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Democrats could be in for a similar reckoning if they win back the House.

“With House Democrats’ own conference chair being thrown out of office by their radical base in favor of a socialist, it’s clear that Democrats will be beholden to the far-left who will be behind their blue wave,” said one GOP aide, referring to the June primary victory of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over veteran Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).

Progressive candidates have vowed to unapologetically fight for a host of liberal causes, including abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE — two ideas that have become rallying cries among the base, but that have split the party.

Progressives may feel especially emboldened if a blue wave crests across the country.

“If we win the majority, we want to make sure that we take those issues people talked about during the campaign and make them real,” said Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanAtheist group argues in court for prayer rights on House floor Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Lawmakers seeking intel on alleged Saudi plot against journalist MORE (D-Wis.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

But Democratic leaders have kept impeachment and abolishing ICE at arm’s length. Instead, they are promising to lower prescription drug and health care costs, pass a jobs and infrastructure package, and clean up the “culture of corruption” in Washington. The party’s leadership says those proposals would give them their best shot at maintaining their majority if they win this fall.

“The pendulum doesn’t swing from the far-right position all the way to the other side,” said Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosDemocrats are offering real change for the people Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Judge upholds Obama's marine monument | GOP lawmakers worried states using water rule to block fossil fuels | Lawmakers press Trump ahead of ethanol decision Hopes for infrastructure deal with Trump rise if Dems win House MORE (D-Ill.), co-chairwoman of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and a member of the more moderate New Democrat Coalition.

“The way you hang on to the majority is, it stays swinging a little teeny bit back and forth, but real change, real meaningful change, sometimes happens incrementally.”

That approach could create fissures among House Democrats, especially if the far-left is itching for quick action and feels like the midterm elections were a referendum on the direction of the party. Liberal groups are expected to keep up pressure on progressive candidates to keep their promises to the electorate.

While Democrats acknowledge that there will likely be disagreements among the rank and file when it comes to certain policies, they say their members are more aligned than the conservatives who came to Washington on an anti-government platform eight years ago.

“The Tea Party is a group that came to Congress to stop government,” said Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeBlue wave poses governing risks for Dems Dems gain momentum 50 days before midterms Dems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching MORE (D-Mich.), a senior whip in the Democratic caucus. “We have candidates across the ideological spectrum, but fundamentally we’re on the same page.”

“That doesn’t mean there won’t be some growing pains or difficulties,” he added.

Even though Democrats aren’t vowing to overhaul the federal government, a number of primary races where progressives pulled out big wins have been colored by a similar anti-establishment fervor. That includes Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley, who defeated longtime Rep. Michael CapuanoMichael (Mike) Everett CapuanoHouse lawmakers introduce bill to end US support in Yemen civil war Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems Massachusetts candidate Pressley says she’s working to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation MORE (D-Mass.) earlier this month.

The wins delighted the liberal wing of the caucus, which has been clamoring for generational change, and underscored the growing divisions in the Democratic Party.

“This is a moment for progressives,” Pocan said. “It gives us more muscle.”

A similar scenario played out during the first midterm election after former President Obama was elected to the White House, when voters sent dozens of Tea Party candidates to Congress, with the expectation that they would shake up Washington with their anti-government platforms.

Then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerHouston Chronicle endorses Beto O'Rourke in Texas Senate race The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — House postpones Rosenstein meeting | Trump hits Dems over Medicare for all | Hurricane Michael nears landfall Kavanaugh becomes new flashpoint in midterms defined by anger MORE (R-Ohio) took immediate action to appease the right flank, most notably by banning congressional earmarks, something many Tea Party candidates campaigned on.

But the honeymoon didn’t last long. Some conservatives began to grow frustrated with BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerHouston Chronicle endorses Beto O'Rourke in Texas Senate race The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — House postpones Rosenstein meeting | Trump hits Dems over Medicare for all | Hurricane Michael nears landfall Kavanaugh becomes new flashpoint in midterms defined by anger MORE’s top-down leadership approach and strong-arm tactics, so they formed a unified voting bloc of roughly 30 members, dubbed the House Freedom Caucus, to advocate for more conservative principles.

The far-right group adopted a “burn the ships” mentality and has been willing to use their leverage to torpedo GOP legislation that doesn’t match their hard-line principles.

While it has been an effective tactic at times, it also has led to messy internal fights within the GOP and created massive headaches for Republican leadership.

Now, some liberals are cautioning fellow progressives not to follow the same route.

“Let’s not go down the road of being like the Tea Party, or being obstructionists, or being folks who are unwilling to engage or compromise,” said freshman Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaTech giant faces crucial decision over Saudi ties GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Silicon Valley tested by Saudi crisis MORE (D-Calif.), a Bay Area liberal and member of the Progressive Caucus.

But not everyone may agree. Ocasio-Cortez has floated the idea of forming a liberal version of the Freedom Caucus, an idea that could gain steam if some Democratic lawmakers feel like their voices aren’t being heard or if they don’t have a seat at the leadership table.

Khanna said changes don’t have to happen immediately after the November elections, while noting that it would be problematic if the status quo remains.

“If the leadership is not listening to our views, then I think there would be issues,” Khanna said. “But I don’t anticipate that will be the case.”

Some observers point out that the internal dynamics of House Republicans and Democrats are quite different, prompting many Democrats to dismiss the idea that progressives will use the same Freedom Caucus tactics to achieve their goals.

For one, Democrats point out that if House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi heckled by Miami Republicans, Proud Boys at campaign event Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' MORE (D-Calif.) becomes Speaker, she will be more in step with the Democratic base than Boehner or even Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (R-Wis.) was with conservatives.

Others say Democrats won’t let family fights spill out into public view the same way Republicans have.

“You’re going to have that tension, of course, but I think we’re going to have leadership that is highly incentivized to maintain what we have and to contain those fights,” said a senior aide associated with the moderate Blue Dog Coalition.

There will also be a desire by Democrats to show a united front ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

But that same dynamic could also ramp up pressure on the party to appease the left base, especially if it helped power a blue wave in 2018.

“We’re not going to fight with each other and hurt our chances ahead of 2020,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalElection Countdown: Midterm fight heats up over Kavanaugh | McConnell sees energized base | Dems look to women to retake House | How suburban voters could decide control of Congress | Taylor Swift backs Tennessee Dems | Poll shows Cruz up 5 in Texas Dems look to women to take back the House after Kavanaugh fight Wrong for Democrats to call for more Kavanaugh investigations MORE (D-Wash.), vice chair of the Progressive Caucus. “But at the same time, I think that it’s good to have a conversation about what the party’s platform really should be and recognize the energy across the country that’s helping us to win.”