Democrats vent to Schumer over Senate majority failure

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-N.Y.) is in listening mode as colleagues are venting their disappointment over falling short once again of winning back the Senate majority.

Schumer has presided over two conference calls in which his fellow Democratic senators analyzed the disappointing results of races in Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina, where they thought they had a chance to knock off GOP incumbents.

So many Democratic senators wanted to speak out during last week’s call that Schumer scheduled a rare Sunday conference call to give them a second chance to unburden themselves.


The senators spent close to 90 minutes on Sunday offering their views about why they failed to win back the Senate majority and what they must do to be more competitive in rural states, where Republicans traditionally have an advantage.

“We just got to do a better job of reaching out, we’re just not doing an adequate job,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Senate Democrats press VA for vaccine distribution plan President is wild card as shutdown fears grow MORE (D-Mont.), who represents a state where the Democratic governor was clobbered this year by Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesOn The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 GOP blocks effort to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers MORE (R-Mont.).

“It’s going to be fixed, it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he added.

Tester and other Democrats say they expect Schumer to solicit more input from the conference on how to make their message more effective in 2022.

“We’re no way to a point where we’re going to be telling Chuck what to do, but I think Chuck is going to be asking us for recommendations on what’s the best way to do that,” Tester said.

One Democratic senator who requested anonymity to talk about internal discussions said there are “huge amounts” of frustration.


“We shouldn’t have lost this election. You can explain it away, but the reality is Republicans have been beating the hell out of government since the Reagan years and saying [Democrats] are the defenders of bad government and that’s what the American people believe,” said the lawmaker.

“We can’t get an invitation to the dance unless we overcome that and the way we overcome that is having some things that are wins” for regular Americans, the senator added.

A second Democratic senator who requested anonymity said colleagues were not in a good mood on Sunday’s call.

“It’s definitely not a tone in which people are thrilled,” said the lawmaker.

Democrats defeated Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerMark Kelly to be sworn in as senator on Wednesday Hillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities MORE (R) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGabby Giffords congratulates Mark Kelly with throwback photo of her own swearing-in Mark Kelly sworn in to Senate seat Sen.-elect Mark Kelly visits John McCain's grave ahead of swearing-in MORE (R) in Colorado and Arizona, respectively, but saw Sen. Doug Jones (D) go down in defeat in Alabama.

They picked up just one seat, despite predictions from The Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight.com that they’d win the majority.

Centrists on Sunday’s call talked about the need to come up with a better way to respond to the socialism tag that Republicans managed to put on Democratic candidates so successfully.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Progressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal Rubio and Ocasio-Cortez spar on Twitter: 'Work more, tweet less' MORE (D-W.Va.) has been outspoken in public about how Democrats have been hurt in states such as his by being associated with "Medicare for All" and the Green New Deal.

Progressives argued that Republicans have moved further and further to the right and that Democrats have followed them in the rightward drift of American political debate that “we’re so disconnected from working Americans,” said the lawmaker.

Schumer has largely stayed quiet on the calls, giving his colleagues a chance to speak freely without interruption, Democratic senators say.

No one criticized Schumer’s leadership directly, but there were some comments that were viewed as indirect criticisms of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

Democratic senators said Schumer has done a good job maintaining relations within the Democratic caucus and keeping the party unified on key votes. Lawmakers said no colleague has offered himself or herself as a leadership alternative.


There was a discussion about the “DSCC endorsing candidates in primaries and not always getting it right and suppressing a legitimate battle that might have strengthened our hand in some way,” said the Democratic senator.

In particular, there’s some second-guessing of the DSCC’s decision to back Amy McGrath, a former Marine Corps fighter pilot, in the Kentucky Democratic primary over Charles Booker, a state representative.

Schumer played an active role in recruiting McGrath to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (R-Ky.), who wound up winning reelection by 20 percentage points even after McGrath raised $90 million for her campaign.

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCan Biden find a third way between Trumpism and Obama-era globalism? Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity Schwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Sanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Progressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal MORE (I-Vt.) endorsed Booker.

There has also been grumbling about the Texas primary, which left MJ Heger as the party’s candidate against Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee MORE (R-Texas). Cornyn easily won reelection.

“There’s some feeling the DSCC should not be picking candidates before the primary,” a third Democratic senator said of the call with Schumer, referring to Kentucky and Texas.


“The polls were wrong” the lawmaker noted, and said his colleagues are trying to figure out “what went wrong in what we did.”

“I don’t think there is one answer. I don’t think anyone knows the answer,” the senator added.

“The two most common knocks on our candidates were socialism and defund the police,” the lawmaker said, citing two effective attacks against Democratic Senate candidates.

Schumer on Tuesday said he viewed the feedback from colleagues as constructive and touted Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE’s victory in the presidential race as the top Democratic priority heading into Election Day.

“We’ve had great feedback,” Schumer said of what he’s heard from colleagues. “Look, we did job No. 1 — no Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE as president and Joe Biden as the next president, and we’re all very happy with that."

While Democrats still have a chance of capturing control of the Senate if they win two runoff races in Georgia, the odds of defeating both Sens. David PerdueDavid PerdueTrump asked Georgia governor to persuade state legislature to overturn Biden victory in state: report Appeals court rejects effort to block Biden's win in Georgia Liberal group running Grinch-themed ads targeting Loeffler, Perdue MORE (R-Ga.) and Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerLoeffler campaign staffer dies in car crash Trump campaigns as wild card in Georgia runoffs Graham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign MORE (R-Ga.) are long.


Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Congress faces late-year logjam Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (Ill.) said he and his colleagues are still trying to figure out how the polls got some of the Senate races so wrong.

The party was optimistic about its chances of winning races in Maine and North Carolina, where polls had shown the party’s candidates ahead.

“First, figure out why the polls were so wrong. Second, see if anything we could have said or done to change the outcome,” Durbin said. Colleagues have floated various theories about why they failed to win more races and how to improve their chances in 2022, he said.

Warren said she has urged colleagues to focus on issues that make a difference in people’s lives, such as relieving student debt obligations.

“I think we ought to be talking about the things that are very popular all across this country. Things like canceling student loan debt and supporting universal child care and not turning our country over to a bunch of lobbyists and corporate insiders,” she said Tuesday afternoon.