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Democrats' post-election 'family meeting' descends into chaos

Moderate House Democrats lashed out at their liberal colleagues Thursday, using a marathon caucus-wide conference call to bash progressives for advancing an agenda that, the centrists said, cost the party a number of seats in Tuesday’s elections. 

An impassioned Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerThe Memo: Democratic tensions will only get worse as left loses patience Five takeaways on the House's return to budget earmarks Lawmakers say companies need to play key role in sustainability MORE, who squeaked to victory in central Virginia, took liberals to task for promoting the policy of redirecting funds away from police departments, an idea that took off following the death of George Floyd in May — and that Republicans used on the campaign trail to hammer Democrats with charges of nurturing crime.

Spanberger called the Democrats’ campaign strategy “a failure.”

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“I do disagree, Abigail, that it was a failure,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Trump against boycotting Beijing Olympics in 2022 MORE (D-Calif.) interjected. “We won the House.”

Rep. Marc VeaseyMarc Allison VeaseyMilitary Appreciation month is a time to honor America's bravest heroes House fails to pass drug bill amid Jan. 6 tensions New signs of progress emerge on police reform MORE (D-Texas) delivered a similar condemnation, lamenting that the far left’s approach to several issues — including moving funds away from the police and banning fracking — had given ammunition to GOP attack ads. Veasey said he had watched GOP “commercial after commercial” using video footage of Democrats uttering the words, “defund the police,” to great effect. 

Liberals immediately pushed back on the moderates’ narrative.

Progressive Caucus co-Chair Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOvernight Health Care: Biden touts 300 million vaccine doses in 150 days | Biden warns of 'potentially deadlier' delta variant | Public option fades with little outcry from progressives Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post On The Money: Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle | White House rules out gas tax hike MORE (D-Wash.) jumped into the fray and argued that Democrats would not be on the cusp of ousting President TrumpDonald TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care MORE from the White House without tremendous energy from the far left.

Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDemocrats seek staffer salary boost to compete with K Street Congress tiptoes back to normality post-pandemic White House to Democrats: Get ready to go it alone on infrastructure MORE (D-N.Y.) and others repeatedly warned colleagues not to leak information from the post-election private “family meeting” to reporters, but that didn’t stop them from sharing the blow-by-blow details of the marathon 2 1/2-hour call with The Hill and other media outlets. 

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The clash between the ideological wings of the caucus reflects the high levels of frustration among Democrats of all stripes following a demoralizing turn at the polls on Tuesday.  

Heading into the elections, party leaders had predicted they would pick up seats, even in deep red districts won soundly by Trump in 2016. Instead, they saw Republicans knock off at least seven Democratic incumbents, most of them first-term lawmakers who had helped deliver the party’s House majority just two years ago. And as of Thursday afternoon they’d failed to flip even a single seat held by a Republican incumbent — a trend that defied both their internal polls and most conservative expectations.  

At one point on the call, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellStephanie Murphy won't run for Senate seat in Florida next year Hispanic Democrats slam four Republicans over Jan. 6 vote in new ads Colombia's protests are threat, test for US MORE (D-Fla.), who lost reelection, cried and lamented that no one could pronounce her name, according to a Washington Post reporter. 

 

House Democratic leaders, rocked by the results, said on Thursday’s call that they want a postmortem review of the election strategy that led them astray.  

Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosTo reverse the teaching shortage in low-income communities, give educators incentive to stay Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Democrat Cheri Bustos to retire from Congress MORE (Ill.), head of the party’s campaign arm who narrowly won reelection, said she was frustrated by bad polling and the loss of good members. But she defended the Democrats’ message and tactics, noting that the House remains securely in the party’s hands heading into the next Congress.   

“We protected the lone firewall in our democracy,” Bustos said, according to sources on the call. “We will be holding a more in-depth political brief once we have more clarity on the final results of this election.”

Pelosi acknowledged a “challenging” election — a long departure from the optimistic tone she’d carried Tuesday morning — but also claimed victory in keeping control of the lower chamber and, perhaps, winning the White House.  

“We held the House. Joe BidenJoe Biden 64 percent of Iowans say 'time for someone else' to hold Grassley's Senate seat: poll Philadelphia shooting leaves 2 dead, injures toddler Ron Johnson booed at Juneteenth celebration in Wisconsin MORE is on a clear path to be the next President of the United States,” Pelosi said, according to a source on the call. 

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“This has been a life or death fight for their very fate of our democracy,” she added. “We did not win every battle but we did win the war.”  

While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee routinely conducts a post-election analysis, it will take on an outsized prominence this year following a disappointing cycle when the party’s hopes of a blue wave — and a repudiation of Trump — never materialized.  

Pelosi, as party leader since 2003, has long faced the delicate task of balancing the party’s policy agenda between the often conflicting demands of the caucus’ liberal and moderate blocs. That job may get tougher after Tuesday’s results and the finger-pointing that’s accompanied them.