House Democrats brace for uncharted territory: New leaders, outvoted


House Democrats are preparing to elect a new generation of leaders on Wednesday who will be tasked with keeping the caucus united on policy and messaging as they aim to win back a majority in the next term.

The decision of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) to step down after leading Democrats for two decades paved the way for the caucus to unite around a younger and more diverse trio of leaders. Democrats are expected to officially choose Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.) to serve as Minority Leader, Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) as Minority Whip and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif. ) as president. If elected as expected, Jeffries will go down in history as the first black member to lead either party in either house of Congress.

The trio, along with others who will be elected later this week to complete the full list of leaders, will have to ensure that ideological factions within the caucus are heard and represented in key decisions, a desire members have long had after decades of centralized power wielded by Pelosi. While the lack of a singular strong hand may present challenges to coalescing the caucus into a majority, being in the minority could allow Democrats to find a consensus to challenge the Republican agenda with their own policy prescriptions that , they hope, will allow them to regain the majority in 2025.

“There’s nothing more unifying than being in the minority and having a clear-headed goal and getting back into the majority so we can continue to deliver great things to everyday Americans,” Jeffries said in a statement. interview with reporters on Tuesday.

Democrats are also preparing to play a bigger role in the 118th Congress than originally expected after midterm elections gave Republicans a narrow majority, which could be between four or five seats once all races are called. . Some Republicans have publicly admitted they will need Democrats’ help to pass must-have legislation, such as raising the debt ceiling and government funding, as defections from the conference’s far-right flank of the GOP are expected.

Democrats representing swing districts are the most likely to continue working across the aisle with Republicans, seeing the narrow majority as an opportunity to incorporate bipartisan priorities into legislation that otherwise would not. adopted. in the form of separate invoices. The most vulnerable incumbent Democrats who defied expectations and won re-election, as well as moderate Republicans, believe the midterm results proved that Americans want the two parties to work together.

“One of the things I’ve always said is that to come up with good and lasting politics, we have to be the adults in the room having those conversations,” said Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat who represents a swing quarter. in Kansas. “I think that’s true of the big tent that we have as Democrats, and I think that’s true of how we get bipartisan legislation.”

Rep. Suzane DelBene (D-Wash.), the outgoing Chair of the Moderate New Democratic Coalition, highlighted bipartisan legislative achievements during the current term, such as legislation on semiconductor manufacturing and science and law. on infrastructure, to prove that willingness to work across the aisle exists.

“It’s difficult, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s easy, but you know, we have to find opportunities to keep moving forward at the next Congress,” she said.

In the minority, Democrats are seeking to ensure the government doesn’t default on debt, stay open by avoiding shutdowns, fund the defense budget, pass a Farm Bill reauthorization and other measures.

But Democrats across the ideological spectrum have made it clear they won’t help Republicans on legislation they deem too extreme or dictated by GOP members Democrats consider most right-wing. Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) echoed many Democrats who said if Republicans just “shout from the top of the mountains and focus on investigations,” it would likely prevent them from helping them.

“We have, you know, relationships and we can have conversations with people across the aisle when politics is good and when politics matters,” Aguilar said earlier this month. “But [Republicans are] are going to have to work to silence their extreme voices within their own caucus when it comes to getting results for the American people.

Jeffries said that although he has interacted more with Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) over the years, he keeps “an open mind about possibly engaging with [Republican leader] Kevin McCarthy for the good of the country.

Republicans have touted plans to launch investigations into President Hunter Biden’s son’s foreign business dealings, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, as well as the Biden administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its immigration policies at the southern border.

Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who is looking to be the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, warned Republicans shouldn’t use investigations as a “side show” when there’s bigger issues like immigration and legislation to protect DACA recipients.

“What we really need is for Democrats and Republicans to come together around common sense immigration proposals,” he said. “Like those adopted in the past that will solve the problem comprehensively.”

Being in the minority will also provide new leaders with the opportunity to learn how to maintain caucus unity, an important responsibility that becomes even more important. in majority.

Jeffries believes he, Clark and Aguilar are uniquely positioned to lead the caucus, having served in leadership roles at critical times — from the Trump administration to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — that have cultivated their individual strengths. and sharpened them as a unit.

“We were thrown onto the battlefield in important positions, and our ability to lead in different ways was tested. And ultimately the assessment of whether we passed or not, you know, will be made [Wednesday],” he said.

While the members are eager to spread power now that the ‘old guard’ has retired – with the exception of Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (SC), who will be fourth in the leadership hierarchy – the absence of Pelosi’s steady hand could complicate negotiations that previously ended in concessions from one faction or another as she found ways to ensure bills could pass the narrow majority of Democrats .

Pelosi said Tuesday she has faith in the new generation of Democratic leaders and will not try to meddle in how they govern.

“It’s important for them to set their own agenda, their own vision and engage the members,” she said. “I’m confident they’ll do a great job with this.”

During In the last Congress, Pelosi sometimes had to rely on Republican votes to pass legislation when the more liberal wing of the caucus opposed a compromise on legislation like the bipartisan infrastructure bill. That equation has changed now that Democrats are in the minority.

“I hope our fellow Democrats will show the same strength and faith in this new Congress. And if we do something similar and there are Republican defections and we need their block of votes to determine the outcome, I hope they show the same courage as us,” said the Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who was one of 13 Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill and faced political backlash for doing so.

Before the possibility of working with Republicans becomes clearer, Democrats will spend Wednesday and Thursday fleshing out the rest of their leadership hierarchy in hopes it reflects the regional and cultural diversity of the caucus.

The Congressional Black Caucus is hoping Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), along with several other members, will join the leadership ranks. The congressional Hispanic caucus has been pushing to add more representation besides Aguilar, and that could come through Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), who has organized a run for the co-chair of the political committee. Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.) has offered to have a member lead a battleground district to help with messaging after many vulnerable Democrats rejected advice from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on how to run their campaigns.

“I just think we need to rethink within the caucus how we approach leadership and opportunity,” Craig said earlier this month. “You see a lot of people leaving the House caucus and running for office all over the state and one of the reasons is that there’s not a lot of opportunity to advance and gain experience and, you know, people get restless.”

To address the turmoil, Democrats will vote on rule changes for the caucus, including term limits for committee chairs. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) has proposed a rule that would allow committee members to vote on whether to keep or oust their top Democrat after six years at the top of a committee. In a virtual Rules Procedures meeting on Monday, it was decided to recommend the rule “unfavourably” ahead of the full caucus vote on Thursday because many members disagree with such limitations.

While Jeffries declined to say whether he supported such rule changes, he pledged to prioritize members’ concerns about remaining stagnant because he believes Democrats are at their best when everyone has the opportunity to be on the playing field, playing the correct position.

“We have a caucus full of incredibly talented individuals from all generations,” he said. “Leaning in and ensuring that everyone is placed in the right position to elevate their talent, intelligence and creativity for the good of the Congressional caucus is one of the challenges I look forward to taking on in the coming years. “


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