Democrats Divided: Caucus Struggles to Find Balance as Radical Left Increases Demands

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., left, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., listen as U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Democrats are struggling to find a balance after a “blue wave” failed to materialize in the U.S. House of Representatives, as the radical left members of the caucus up their demands for far-left proposals — from defunding the police to socialized medicine — that some Democrats believe contributed to their losses.

On election night, the Fox News Decision Desk projected that Democrats would not only retain control of the House but expand their majority “by at least five seats.” The latter did not come to fruition. Rather, Republicans experienced what some described as “shocking” gains in the House.

Prior to the election, Democrats held a 232-197 majority. The GOP could net more than 10 seats, ousting Democrats in several key races. The GOP’s strong performance was unexpected, particularly among Democrats, who remained confident that they would expand their majority in the House. Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair Cheri Bustos (D-IL) has since announced that they would conduct a “post mortem” of their strategy as a caucus.

“Something went wrong,” Bustos said. “They all pointed to one political environment — but voters who turned out look a lot like 2016.”

Others, such as Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), largely attributed the losses, and her narrow race, to the Democrat Party’s open embrace of the radical left ideas — particularly calls to “defund” police and the general talk of socialism.

“We have to commit to not saying the words ‘defund the police’ ever again,” Spanberger told her colleagues.

“We need to not ever use the words socialist or socialism ever again. It does matter, and we have lost good members because of that,” she continued, adding that Democrats will get “fucking torn apart” if they continue to embrace such ideas.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) appeared to agree, warning that Democrats are “not going to win” races, such as the runoffs in Georgia, if they continue to embrace Medicare for All and ideas such as defunding the police.

Such concerns, however, have not stopped the far-left members of the caucus, including members of the so-called “Squad,” from pursuing their radical left agenda.

“We’re not going to be successful if we’re silencing districts like mine,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) told her colleagues.

“Me not being able to speak on behalf of many of my neighbors right now, many of which are Black neighbors, means me being silenced. I can’t be silent,” she continued, explaining that she and her progressive colleagues are “not interested in unity that asks people to sacrifice their freedom and their rights any longer.

“And if we truly want to unify our country, we have to really respect every single voice. We say that so willingly when we talk about Trump supporters, but we don’t say that willingly for my Black and brown neighbors and from LGBTQ neighbors or marginalized people,” she continued.

Prior to the election, Reps. Tlaib, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) signaled their intention to move Joe Biden (D) further to the left, and there are no signs of the “Squad” tossing that objective to the wayside post-election.

“But we understand that electing Biden is not the end-all. It is the beginning,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said during a virtual meeting with the “Squad” members last month.

He stressed that progressives are “not retreating” on their agenda and will “organize our people to make sure that Biden becomes the most progressive president since FDR.”

Ocasio-Cortez, who essentially called for a running archive of “Trump sycophants,” has continued to take on the moderates in her party, taking issue with House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) after he reportedly asked Democrats, “Do we want to win, do we want to govern, or do we want to be internet celebrities?”

“I think it’s a useful conversation for us to have because the socialism message wasn’t helpful,” Jeffries reportedly said during a private call last week.

“Pretty astounding that some Dems don’t believe it’s possible to govern, be politically popular, and command formidable bully pulpits at the same time, but it actually explains a lot about how we got here,” she said, contending that Democrats “don’t have to choose between these things!”:

Democrat Representative-elect Cori Bush (D-MO) is among progressives who are continuing to champion what moderate Democrats fear are unpopular messages, such as defunding police.

“We have this super aggressive police department and they don’t get to continue to just kill black folks in my community and I not say anything,” she said during a recent appearance on MSNBC. “So yes, defund your butts. Defund you.”

Sanders has also inferred that the radical left has a mandate to impose their radical agenda despite losing seats in the House, calling support for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal “good politics”:

Meanwhile, progressive groups, including Justice Democrats and Data for Progress, are “circulating a memo on their diagnosis of the election results,” which attacks moderate Democrats, specifically:

“Republican attacks levied at Democrats this cycle based on terms like ‘defund the police’ or ‘socialism’ have become scapegoats for Representatives like Abigail Spanberger, Conor Lamb, and other senior Democrats,” said the memo, which was shared first with POLITICO. “Not a single Democrat — progressive or otherwise — argued that Democrats should run primarily on these themes.”

“These attacks will never go away, nor will demands for reform from social movements,” the memo continued. “The attacks are designed to stoke racial resentment.”

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) summarized the Democrat Party’s issues during an interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, concluding that Democrats have a major issue with branding.

“I think that the reason why it’s relatively easy to paint all Democrats with a broad brush is because people don’t know, always, what we stand for,” she said.

“I mean, I wanna be frank that we have a problem, especially in places like Michigan where people don’t know what it means to be a Democrat,” she continued, adding that the brand has been “weak for a while”:

And therefore, every two years, you can just superimpose whatever hit is the most popular thing and you’re gonna convince some people that that’s what all Democrats are about. So, while I don’t love some of the slogans, I don’t love a lot of what I’m hearing from some of my colleagues who are further left of me, I think that we have a bigger strategic problem and we need to own that as Democrats,” Slotkin continued.

Meanwhile, several progressives are continuing to stiff-arm calls for unity in their messaging. While Clyburn expressed concern over the far-left’s radical messaging, he essentially compared President Trump to Hitler during an appearance on CNN. Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s former chief of staff, called for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to step down altogether.

Regardless of the final outcome of the presidential election, Republicans plan to capitalize on the Democrat infighting, viewing it as an advantage.

“The best way to raise money is just let Nancy Pelosi and AOC talk,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said during an appearance on Axios on HBO.

“She runs the floor,” he said of the New York lawmaker. “That wing of the party, the socialist wing of the party, they are the new power of the Democratic Party.”


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