House

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 Spanberger, 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."

"I do disagree, Abigail, that it was a failure," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) interjected. "We won the House."

Rep. Marc Veasey (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 Jayapal (D-Wash.) jumped into the fray and argued that Democrats would not be on the cusp of ousting President Trump from the White House without tremendous energy from the far left.

Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (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. 

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-Powell (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 Bustos (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 Biden is on a clear path to be the next President of the United States," Pelosi said, according to a source on the call. 

"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.

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