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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 TrumpAustralia recognizes West Jerusalem as Israeli capital, won't move embassy Mulvaney will stay on as White House budget chief Trump touts ruling against ObamaCare: ‘Mitch and Nancy’ should pass new health-care law 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 PocanDems to reframe gun violence as public health issue The Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? Setting the record straight about No Labels 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 BustosThe Hill's Morning Report — Markets on edge over Trump, Xi trade negotiations House Dems worry about lack of women of color in leadership Bustos elected to lead Democratic campaign arm 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 KildeeDeGette dropped from chief deputy whip spot House Dems talking more about impeaching Trump Dem rep rips Michigan response to Flint water crisis 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 CapuanoMassachusetts New Members 2019 House lawmakers introduce bill to end US support in Yemen civil war Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems 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 BoehnerOpening day of new Congress: Not always total joy Meadows looks to make his move Fractious GOP vows to unify in House minority 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 BoehnerOpening day of new Congress: Not always total joy Meadows looks to make his move Fractious GOP vows to unify in House minority 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) KhannaTerm limit fight highlights growing pains for Pelosi’s majority GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote House GOP blocks lawmakers from forcing Yemen war votes for rest of year 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 PelosiTrump touts ruling against ObamaCare: ‘Mitch and Nancy’ should pass new health-care law Federal judge in Texas strikes down ObamaCare Trump names Mulvaney acting chief of staff MORE (D-Calif.) becomes Speaker, she will be more in step with the Democratic base than Boehner or even Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Senate heads toward floor fight on criminal justice bill 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 JayapalThe Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? Push to pay congressional interns an hour gains traction with progressives Dem lawmaker says she helped group of migrants enter U.S., apply for asylum 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.”