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Pelosi faces caucus divisions in Biden era

For Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Governors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight MORE, her final years with the gavel may also prove the most challenging.

The California Democrat is poised to enter the next Congress with a historically thin House majority, one in which the progressive and centrist factions are already bashing each other publicly at a time when President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE is seeking national unity.

The internal squabbling has raised early questions about the direction of the party, the trust in its leadership team and the fate of an ambitious legislative agenda that may quickly face headwinds within a restive House majority featuring little room for defections.

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It’s also heightened frustrations among Democrats on and off of Capitol Hill who, already demoralized by the congressional results on Election Day, are wary that the intraparty clash will puncture the power of Biden’s victory and shift the focus away from President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE’s refusal to acknowledge defeat.

"It's just a fantastically unnecessary feud happening in the Democratic Party between the center and progressives," said one Democratic strategist. “There are just a lot of angry people.”

That anger is spilling into public view.

In the week since Election Day, centrist Democrats have accused progressives of alienating moderate voters by elevating far-left policies — things like defunding the police and banning fracking — that gave the GOP attack-ad fodder across campaigns.

“We need to not ever use the words 'socialist' or 'socialism' ever again. Because while people think it doesn't matter, it does matter,” an agitated 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 (D), a Virginia moderate who won a slim victory last week, told Democrats on a caucus call. “And we lost good members because of that.”

Liberals have fired back, saying it was the progressive agenda that mobilized the Democrats’ base and catalyzed Biden’s victory. Members of the so-called squad — progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere Trump tweets Thanksgiving criticism of NFL QBs for kneeling MORE (N.Y.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' MORE (Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMeet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' MORE (Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyGOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' Pelosi faces caucus divisions in Biden era Record number of Black women elected to Congress in 2020 MORE (Mass.) — are accusing moderates of taking those base voters for granted and have even been tweeting in recent days with the hashtag “#EmbraceTheBase.”

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And while Democrats’ House majority will shrink, the number of progressives sympathetic to the goals of Ocasio-Cortez and her allies will grow with incoming lawmakers like Cori Bush of Missouri, Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones of New York and Marie Newman of Illinois.

Ocasio-Cortez has accused party leaders of being “blinded [by] anti-activist sentiment” while blaming the Democratic losses on poorly run campaigns that neglected digital outreach — a charge disputed by the party’s campaign arm.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's (DCCC) independent expenditure organization spent more than $10 million on digital advertising this cycle, nearly double what it spent in 2018 and five times more than in 2016. And the vast majority of candidates in competitive districts were found to have spent more money than their GOP opponents on Facebook, including several who ultimately lost.

Ocasio-Cortez has not provided specific evidence of problematic campaign spending aside from citing Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who won reelection, and her office didn’t respond when asked for other examples. Lamb has denied Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that he only spent $2,000 on Facebook the week before the election.

Caught between the feuding Democrats are Pelosi and other party leaders, who had predicted big House gains of up to 15 seats and are now forced to defend their campaign strategy in the face of dispiriting results that didn’t match up with their polling.

While more than a dozen House races have yet to be called, Democrats lost at least nine incumbents, with more expected, and have picked up only three seats currently held by the GOP. Not a single Republican running for reelection has lost a race.

"Democrats held the House majority in an unpredictable political environment that no public or private data from either party predicted, and as a result President Joe Biden has a Democratic House majority to work with as we get to the tough job of beating COVID-19 and rebuilding an economy Republicans left in tatters,” DCCC spokesperson Robyn Patterson said Thursday.

In another dig at the centrist critics, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a picture Thursday showing her glowering at Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Voters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (D), a moderate West Virginian who had used the same platform a day earlier to attack the left’s “crazy socialist agenda.”

"No one is telling folks in tough seats to adopt activist messaging,” she wrote in a separate tweet. “We are saying the messaging hurt to the extent that it did because our operations & investments are not great and it makes the party vulnerable."

An early casualty of the blame-game was 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 (D-Ill.), the head of the party’s campaign arm, who squeaked to victory in her own race and has since announced she won’t seek a second term atop the DCCC.

Pelosi, to be sure, is accustomed to managing a diverse and divisive caucus, one that runs a spectrum from the liberal Progressive Caucus to the conservative-leaning Blue Dogs. A master vote-counter, she’s been able to bridge that chasm over the last two years to move an extensive list of legislative priorities, even those covering hot-button issues like climate change, immigration, gun control and police reform — all topics she’s vowing to tackle quickly in the next Congress.

Pelosi, after two years of bitter clashes with Trump, will also gain the luxury of having an ally in the White House — a new dynamic lending Democrats a stark messaging advantage as they do battle with Senate Republicans, who are expected to retain their slim majority in 2021.

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Still, highlighting the difficulties ahead, Pelosi will first need to rally the caucus support to reclaim the gavel in January. While no one is expected to challenge her directly, 15 Democrats voted against Pelosi’s Speakership bid on the House floor in 2019, and at least 10 of those lawmakers are returning next year — a figure high enough to block her path.

With tensions smoldering, GOP leaders have been more than happy to toss fuel on the fire. Although Republicans will remain the minority in the next Congress, their better-than-expected showing at the polls has given them reason to celebrate — and shine a bright light on the post-election sniping across the aisle.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' Sunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight MORE (R-Calif.) said Thursday that the election results represented a “mandate" against the far-left policies, like redirecting funds for police departments, that GOP campaign operatives had used countrywide to portray Democrats as out of touch with working Americans.

"From their conference chair to congresswoman [Ocasio-Cortez], it doesn't seem they're getting along very well," McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol. "They're fighting on the fundamental of who they are — for what they champion and what they lost over.  ... And they have the exact same leadership team that they lost last time with [in 2010].”

Despite losing the race for the White House, Republicans aren’t engaging in the same kind of hand-wringing or introspection as Democrats, who will at least have control of both the House and the presidency.

Instead, most Republicans — including McCarthy — are joining Trump in refusing to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect and insisting that legal efforts challenging his leads in key states should continue despite the lack of evidence suggesting voter fraud.

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Some Republicans who fell short in congressional races are going so far as to attribute their losses to voter fraud, like John James in a close Senate race in Michigan and even long-shot House GOP challengers in heavily Democratic areas like Los Angeles and Baltimore.

In a sign of how entrenched the partisan warfare is likely to be in the next Congress, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift MORE (D-N.Y.) are also arguing that voters, in choosing Biden, have given Democrats carte blanche to move their favored policy agenda next year.

“What Joe Biden got in this election was a mandate — a mandate to address the challenges that our country faces,” Pelosi said.