Luján, right, will bring a quiet intensity to his job as Israel’s replacement at the DCCC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has ruffled plenty of feathers lately, reclaimed some goodwill with her caucus Monday, bypassing more established members to name Ben Ray Luján the next chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
It won’t erase all of the negativity percolating among her flock — demoralized after Election Day and antsy over the stasis at the leadership table — but the decision to elevate the New Mexico Democrat is being called “smart” and “savvy,” even by those who count themselves among Pelosi’s critics.
Rep. Maxine Waters of California, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the top Democrat on Financial Services, said Pelosi’s pick was “refreshing” and “lovely.” Full story
Pelosi and her leadership team face questions about their handling of the midterms. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Updated 3:34 p.m. | House Democrats came back to work Wednesday still reeling from last week’s bruising election results — and looking for answers about what went wrong.
For many lawmakers, it wasn’t enough to blame the loss of at least a dozen House seats on an unpopular president, gerrymandered districts and a host of other factors beyond the party’s control. Going forward, they say they want their leadership to do some soul-searching, and so far it hasn’t happened.
A few members challenged Pelosi for her suggestion that voter suppression accounted for low Democratic turnout, a source on the call said.
A handful of Democratic aides said there was general frustration that the DCCC, at the eleventh hour, had to shift precious dollars around to help incumbents who should have been safe — or should have been warned by the DCCC much earlier to get back to their districts and protect their seats.
Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., was telling his local newspaper the party’s messaging needed to change. Democrats wouldn’t win elections, he said, talking about Pelosi’s favored “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” agenda.
“Where the hell were the Democrats? What were we talking about?” he asked. “We’re losing white men. Why are we not talking about that? Why are we always concerned with what’s the politically correct thing to say?”
“Where’s the humility?” a senior Democratic aide lamented. “Don’t we want to self-assess here?”
Over the weekend, it looked like party leaders were starting to come around to the idea about how the elections went for Democrats on a national leavel. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida announced that a special panel of “key party stakeholders and experts” would perform a “top-to-bottom assessment” of what went wrong this cycle and how to do better next time.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., tweeted that Wasserman Schultz “is right: Dems need a thorough, honest analysis of what went wrong. … Business as usual is not the clarion call we need now.”
Even the House’s third-ranking Democrat, Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, acknowledged there should be some examination of how the messaging strategy was executed.
“A couple of weeks before the election, my travels around the country, in and out of these congressional districts, led me to the conclusion that our message, or a lack thereof, was causing a problem,” Clyburn told CQ Roll Call on Monday. “Where was the Democratic message in this campaign? People couldn’t tell you.”
A leadership aide pushed back against the thesis that House Democrats lacked a compelling narrative on the campaign trail, and that leaders are required to self-flagellate to prove they’re disappointed.
The aide told CQ Roll Call that the caucus had numerous opportunities to collaborate on a party platform ahead of the midterms, with Pelosi and Israel holding listening sessions to hone talking points and messaging strategy. The result was the “Middle Class Jumpstart” economic agenda, which House Democrats promised to implement within their first 100 days of regaining control of the chamber.
Attendance was always high at these special planning meetings, the leadership aide continued; if members now are saying they didn’t like the message or appreciate the tone, it’s not because they never had the chance to make their feelings known. Also, grousing about a lack of message, the aide said, is par for the course for Democrats every two years.
“I think we went beyond doing enough,” Rep. Jose E. Serrano of New York said Wednesday, in defense of the caucus’s strategy this election cycle.
At least one tradition, however, is missing from this year’s election aftermath: Calls for an imminent change at the leaders’ table. It’s a far cry from 2010 when Democrats lost control of the chamber and there was considerable chatter about whether it the time had come for Pelosi to step aside after 12 years in leadership.
“It does not just fall on Nancy,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona told CQ Roll Call Wednesday, adding that responsibility for what went wrong on Election Day was a “shared one” among the whole House Democratic Caucus.
So for the time being, even ambitious lawmakers clamoring to move up in the House’s party power structure are keeping their powder dry, perhaps expecting 2016 to be the year where a sea change finally takes place at the very top.
There are also fewer members in elected office willing to risk even a symbolic challenge of Pelosi, Clyburn or Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. There is now a shortage of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats willing to “take one for the team,” as ex-Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina did four years ago.
But it doesn’t mean that Democrats don’t want to see some changes. That’s especially true for the dozens of members who were elected in 2012 eager to compromise and get things done, even if it meant working with Republicans.
One member of that class, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said there needs to be a “whole different level of engagement” between members and leadership going forward, and she predicted the caucus would be confronted with the challenge of evaluating the status quo.
“I am ready to talk and have an action plan ready on Wednesday,” Lujan Grisham told CQ Roll Call on Nov. 8, adding that she wanted to see the 2016 cycle built around talking points that focused more on positive ideas and less on partisan finger-pointing.
In a separate interview on Tuesday, first-term Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the cycle, said members were undeniably getting antsy with business-as-usual in the senior ranks.
“I think you’re going to have some of the more senior members frustrated about when we’re going to get the House back,” said Murphy, “and you got some younger, newer members who kind of want to be set free and don’t want to be tied down as much.
“They want to talk about the things that got them elected in the first place,” he continued. “This is a new generation of leadership.”
Correction 4:26 p.m.
An earlier version of this post misstated the state that Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. represents in Congress. He represents New Jersey.
Ranking member rivals Eshoo and Pallone. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Since January, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. and Anna G. Eshoo have been positioning themselves as the obvious choice to be the top Democrat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.
But after 10 months of cutting checks and courting colleagues, they’re still not finished campaigning to replace the panel’s current ranking member, retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California.
Members of the House Democratic Caucus won’t settle the hotly contested race until late-November at the earliest, meaning Pallone of New Jersey and Eshoo of California will have to stay on the offensive, showing they’re both team players and power players who are ready — and able — to help their friends out.
Along the way, they are pulling pages from the same playbook — with a few key exceptions.
California’s Becerra, left, campaigns in Colorado with Democratic House candidate Romanoff. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House members who want to help their party in the final stretch of campaign season have options. They can offer endorsements. Make calls. Write checks.
But sometimes, nothing says “I care” like getting on a plane and flying across the country to stand alongside a colleague.
In the month before Election Day, members not fighting for their political lives are expected to be team players — and one way to do that is by traveling to different congressional districts as campaign “surrogates.”
It’s not as simple as just showing up: Being a good surrogate is an art, and considerable thought, time and effort go into deciding who should go where, and when, and in what capacity.
Each member has his or her own edge.
Budget Chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., will draw a crowd, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can bring in buckets of money (she’s raised more than $400 million for Democrats since 2002). Others can open doors that might otherwise be closed, or help a vulnerable member shore up support among a flagging constituency.
And every ambitious lawmaker on Capitol Hill knows that stumping for a fellow member or potential colleague can pay off down the road.
Boehner, left, and McCarthy pushed through a continuing resolution that includes support for the president’s request to train and arm Syrian rebels. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Updated 7:03 p.m. | After voting to give President Barack Obama the authority to arm and train Syrian rebels, the House passed legislation Wednesday to fund the government until Dec. 11, moving the bill to avoid a government shutdown and address Islamic State organizations to the Senate.
House lawmakers voted 319-108 to pass the continuing resolution, with 143 Democrats joining 176 Republicans in support of the measure. 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans voted against the bill.
A vote on the spending bill, which will continue government spending through Dec. 11 at a $1.012 trillion level, was delayed last week so lawmakers could attach a request from the president to give him Title 10 authority to fight the Islamic State group.
That authority would allow the Obama administration to equip Syrian rebels for the intended purpose of fighting ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also referred to as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Obama praised the House and urged the Senate to follow suit on the legislation, which he reiterated is not an authorization for the use of U.S. troops in Syria.
“Today’s vote is another step closer to having the authorization to train and equip vetted elements of the moderate Syrian opposition so they can defend themselves against, and ultimately push back on, ISIL forces,” he said in a statement. Full story
Pelosi: “We just don’t whip war votes.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Democratic leaders aren’t whipping votes on the continuing resolution and an amendment to give President Barack Obama authority to arm Syrian rebels against the terrorist group the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi used her regularly-scheduled Wednesday morning news conference to make an impassioned case for members to support their president.
“I don’t know how the vote will turn out,” the California Democrat said. “It’s not a vote we whip. We just don’t whip war votes. But I do think that, as members weigh the factors, that they will, I think, give points to the president for all that he has done, diplomatically, politically, humanitarian-wise and ask for this distinct piece.” Full story
Hoyer predicts two House votes on the president’s ISIS authority request. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said Thursday afternoon that he expects Congress will vote next week to grant President Barack Obama authority to arm Syrian rebels against the insurgent terrorist group known as the Islamic State or ISIS.
But the Maryland Democrat also said he expected that that vote wouldn’t be Congress’s last word on the subject.
“I believe a two-step process is what we will, I think, pursue,” Hoyer told CQ Roll Call and the Washington Post on Thursday during a taping of the C-SPAN program “Newsmakers,” set to air on Sunday morning. “I think there will be consideration of the president’s request to train and equip regional players.”
Then, after the elections, Hoyer said he anticipated “consideration of a larger authorization for the use of military force.”
Grisham and other Hispanic lawmakers took their immigration overhaul concerns to the administration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
End of the year? By Christmas? By Thanksgiving?
There seems to be some disagreement among the supporters of immigration rights as to when, exactly, President Barack Obama will step in with his promised unilateral action.
But overall, frustrated advocates seemed more optimistic Thursday after a clear-the-air session with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
McDonough told reporters that the president would act on immigration “before the end of the year” as he left a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
CHC Whip Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said McDonough told them the president would act “by the holiday season.”
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill. who attended the meeting, talked about a “Thanksgiving blessing” a day earlier in an interview on MSNBC, but on Thursday, he was referring to a “holiday season” deadline as well.
“We are moving forward. And this will be a season, the season, you know, I’ve said this: The holiday season must be a blessing for millions of undocumented families across America,” Gutiérrez said, “where they too can, you know, reap the rewards of their bountiful work for the year.”
The talk of immigration action around the holidays mirrored a statement by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Thursday that there would be movement “by Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
The CHC members said they expressed their frustration with the president delaying action until after the November elections.
“There were a range of emotions expressed, including frustration and anger,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said.
The members leaving the meeting would not talk in detail about how exactly McDonough said the president is willing to address the immigration system.
However, one member, who asked to speak on background to discuss the meeting, said it was clear “the president’s going to go as far as he can under the law.”
Gutiérrez and other advocates have suggested the president has the authority to at least temporarily defer the deportation of up to as many as 5 million of the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
CHC members will convene Tuesday to discuss their official caucus response to the immigration developments.
Inhofe was not a fan of the president’s Wednesday address on combating ISIS. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Reaction to the president’s prime-time speech on ramping up efforts to take on the terror group ISIS ranged, not surprisingly, from very supportive — loyal huzzahs from Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Richard J. Durbin — to openly dismissive: Sen. Ted Cruz called the president “unserious.”
“Tonight’s speech was disappointing, but not surprising. The President’s approach to ISIS has been – and remains – fundamentally unserious,” the Texas Republican said in a statement.
An even more withering assessment of President Barack Obama’s address came from Oklahoma Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe.
“Tonight, the President’s strategy re-plowed the ground of what he has already done and requested what Congressional leaders have already offered. At ISIL headquarters in Raqqa, Syria, you can hear a sigh of relief.” Full story
Democrats wonder if Cantor was all talk on the Voting Rights Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Passing a new Voting Rights Act in the GOP-dominated House was never going to be easy, supporters acknowledge. But with a powerful Republican such as Eric Cantor as an ally, hope flickered for nearly a year.
Then came June 10 and the shocking primary defeat that tanked Cantor’s congressional career — taking with it, in all likelihood, any prospect for an update of the landmark 1965 civil rights legislation that had been weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling.
Even with Cantor as majority leader, said a House aide close to the VRA negotiations, “I would have speculated that it was certainly a very steep climb. That it was unlikely, but there was still hope.”
But with the Virginia Republican out of the mix, the aide said, “it doesn’t appear we’re going to see it this Congress.”
It’s a disappointing turn that has some Democrats wondering if Cantor ever deserved the benefit of a doubt on minority voting rights. Full story
King praised changes made to the border package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Updated 11:04 p.m. | House Republicans found the votes late Friday night to pass a $694 million appropriations bill aimed at stemming the tide of the child migrant surge at the U.S-Mexico border.
It passed almost entirely along party lines, 223-189, freeing Republicans to go home for the August recess able to tell constituents they took action to address the crisis — unlike the Senate, which was unable to pass its own border funding bill Thursday but left town anyway. Only a single Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted for the package.
Four Republicans voted no: Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina and Paul Broun of Georgia.
The House’s bill, however, isn’t expected to go anywhere, with Democrats and President Barack Obama torching it Friday. Full story
Immigration overhaul advocates hold a large rally in front of the White House Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Frustrated by lack of action and unfulfilled promises on the immigration overhaul front, a coalition of 10 advocacy groups is out to hold House members accountable for the extent to which they were unhelpful to the cause.
A new scorecard for all 435 members’ immigration votes, statements and co-sponsorships aims to draw a stark portrait of “who stands with us and who does not,” said Hispanic Federation President José Calderón. The rankings come as Congress nears a boiling point on an emergency funding request from President Barack Obama intended to mitigate the crisis at the border as children cross illegally into the United States.
The first-of-its-kind scorecard was released Monday, as advocates gathered a stone’s throw from the Capitol for the grand unveiling, calling for action and scolding lawmakers for what they see as stonewalling on a critical issue.
“Every ‘zero’ you see in that scorecard is personal to us,” said Rocio Sáenz, a member of the board of directors for Mi Familia Vota.
“There is some explaining that needs to be done as to why they said to us in private that they supported immigration reform, yet their report card says different,” said Tony Suárez, vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Republicans received significantly lower rankings than Democrats. Clarissa Martínez de Castro, the deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation, said the discrepancy reflected a “Republican leadership failure,” though the organizations behind the scorecard insist the results are based on the facts and aren’t motivated by party preference.
Here’s a look at the rankings, based on members’ positions in 11 different areas over the past several months: Full story
Updated 5:06 p.m. | House Republicans laid out their requirements for President Barack Obama’s border crisis spending request Wednesday: National Guard troops, more judges for expedited deportations and changes to a 2008 trafficking law that would make it easier to send Central American minors home.
But with little more than a week before lawmakers are supposed to leave town for the August recess, Democrats digging in against changing the 2008 law, and some conservatives complaining the deportation provisions aren’t harsh enough, it’s not clear GOP leaders have the votes needed to send their bill to the Senate.
Throughout the day Wednesday, GOP leaders, appropriators and stakeholder members huddled with colleagues to corral support for a possible $1.5 billion bill — the White House originally asked for $3.7 billion — to fund enforcement agencies that have been stretched thin by the overwhelming surge of Central American migrants in southern Texas.
But as of Wednesday afternoon, no formal piece of legislation had been introduced and no decisions had been made as to whether the GOP’s funding proposal and its separate policy provisions would be contained in one package or two.
Appropriations Democrats had not even been briefed on the details of a spending package, according to a Democratic committee aide.
Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told reporters: “When the leadership lays out the plans for timing of what we do, we’ll be ready. … It’s pretty close to being ready.”
Meanwhile, a sizable number of rank-and-file Republicans said Wednesday that doing nothing at all would be better than passing legislation the Democrat-controlled Senate would likely make more lenient on undocumented immigrants — or that Obama would just ignore like he has, they say, with other laws on the books.
“We like her ideas,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La., of the recommendations put forth by Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the specially appointed GOP working group tasked with coming up with the border recommendations. “The problem is, if we pass them, they’ll be gone.” Full story
On Thursday, Reps. John Carter of Texas and Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia introduced separate bills that would make more conservative revisions to current immigration law than many of their peers on either side of the aisle would prefer.