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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 SpanbergerDivided citizenry and government — a call to action for common ground House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally Bickering Democrats return with divisions 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 PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-Calif.) interjected. “We won the House.”

Rep. Marc VeaseyMarc Allison VeaseyTwo lawmakers announce bids to succeed Bustos at DCCC Bustos won't seek to chair DCCC again in wake of 2020 results Democrats' post-election 'family meeting' descends into chaos 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 JayapalBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Trump, attorneys step up efforts to reverse election's outcome MORE (D-Wash.) jumped into the fray and argued that Democrats would not be on the cusp of ousting President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE from the White House without tremendous energy from the far left.

Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats 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-PowellThe Memo: Democrats see warning signs beyond 2020 Florida Democrat breaks down loss: 'It's not just about socialism' Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day 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 BustosDemocratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 Maloney vows to overhaul a House Democratic campaign machine 'stuck in the past' 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 BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays 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.