House Democrats Trade Blame Over Surprise Losses in Election

Bookmark

Frustration among Democrats over U.S. House election losses spilled over during a conference call Thursday as several moderates blamed party progressives for promoting an ultra-liberal agenda that turned off swing voters.

Representative Abigail Spanberger, who narrowly won re-election in a Republican-leaning Virginia district, was one of several Democrats who voiced anger that the party lost races it should have won, according to people familiar with the private caucus call.

House Democrats Trade Blame Over Surprise Losses in Election

She and others contended that issues promoted by the Democratic left -- such as calls to defund the police -- gave Republicans an opening to paint the entire party as socialists and radicals. Spanberger’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

At least seven incumbents, six of them first elected in the 2018 Democratic wave, lost their bids for re-election. And the party fell short of flipping seats in states such as Texas that had appeared to be prime targets in this election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told fellow Democrats that she disagreed with the assessment that the election weakened the party, according to one person who listened to the call. She also said that policies that are popular in her hometown of San Francisco might not work elsewhere in the country, reminding Democrats that they needed to find consensus for a winning message.

She emphasized that Democrats had held control of the House and that Joe Biden is on a path to winning the presidency, according to the person. The party also needs to mindful of the message it sends to voters ahead of January runoffs for the Senate in Georgia that could give Democrats control in the Senate, she told them.

Majority Worries

Representatives Marc Veasey of Texas and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas were described as joining Spanberger in airing similar grievances. They complained that progressive members embracing socialism were endangering the continued Democratic hold on the House majority, according to another person familiar with the call. The offices of the two didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The power of the party’s young and vocal progressives, led by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is set to grow with the addition next year of several new members who replaced have more centrist veterans.

Ocasio-Cortez hailed those results as evidence that the progressive message works, and called for appreciation of those members’ efforts. In a series of tweets Friday, she argued that some campaigns suffered because they failed to execute effectively via social media platforms.

Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, an Ocasio-Cortez ally who also was first elected in 2018, said on Thursday’s call that she viewed the complaints from the centrists as pressure on her not to speak her mind, according to one of the people.

For his part, President Donald Trump on Thursday hailed Republican victories in House races against predictions. The GOP “actually won many new seats and I think many more on the way,” he said.

There were still 39 seats left to be settled late Thursday. Democrats currently have 232 seats to 197 for Republicans and one Libertarian. Five seats are vacant.

Democratic tensions will be building leading up to the 2022 elections. The party in control of the White House historically has lost seats in midterms, and Democrats will have a narrower majority to defend heading into that vote.

Public Display

The internal bickering played out in public as almost real-time leaks of the back-and-forth on the call Thursday. Some members tweeted during the discussion, pleading with colleagues to stop.

“I’ve gotten texts from 3 different reporters asking me to live-leak juicy details to them. No. We (Dems and the media) need to stop this nonsense,” Representative Jared Huffman of California tweeted at one point.

The turmoil illustrates the challenge Pelosi will be confronting in managing the various factions of her slimmed-down majority in what could be her last two years as speaker.

Pelosi has promised colleagues she won’t serve as speaker beyond 2023, to allow a new generation of Democrats to assume leadership. She has said she will seek the post for the next two-year session; House Democrats will nominate a speaker in party leadership elections Nov. 18 and 19.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.