Frustrated by the loss of several seats, House Democrats on opposing wings of the caucus clashed as the party grappled with its shrinking majority.
Moderate Democrats tried to pin the blame on controversial far-left members such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said Sunday that her faction was not the root of the problem but leadership’s campaigning “as though it’s 2005.”
“The question that we have is how can we build a more effective Democratic operation that is stronger and more resilient to Republican attacks,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, gave Republicans credit for their strength on digital campaigning.
House Democrats not only failed to pick up many vulnerable GOP seats but also lost at least seven seats to Republicans.
“I’m furious. Something went wrong here across the entire political world. Our polls, Senate polls I want answers, and my team is already planning how we go and get those answers,” Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairwoman, told Democrats on a private call.
The infighting and finger-pointing spilled out into the open last week with moderates lamenting the influence of the far-left.
“It was a failure. It was not a success,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, one of the frontline members who survived the GOP attack, said in a heated, emotional caucus-wide conference call. “We lost members who shouldn’t have lost.
“And we need to not use the word ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again.”
An audio recording of the call was first reported by The Washington Post.
Ms. Spanberger, who narrowly won reelection in a Virginia district she flipped in 2018, specifically highlighted how Democrats approached the viral “defund the police” rhetoric during the summer, which left members like her vulnerable.
She said Democrats were not clear enough in exactly what they stood for in terms of how they would address social services and community policing.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, also said the party needed to improve on controversial messaging, as highlighting the “defund the police” movement was a key part of the GOP’s strategy.
He compared the “defund the police” movement to the “Burn Baby Burn” slogan detracted from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
“I am against sloganeering,” he said on CNN. “We need to work on what makes headway not what makes headlines.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, along with the other three members of the far-left “Squad,” easily won her reelection bid. But she also was the face of the GOP’s attack ads on more moderate members who fell in swing districts.
She argued that while not every Democrat needs to run as a progressive, there were common threads that they could support.
She said it was “irresponsible to pour gasoline” on existing tensions within the caucus during a heated private party conference call just 48 hours after Election Day, while data was still coming in.
“There are, at least in the House caucus, very deep divisions within the party,” she said. “And I believe that we need to really come together and not allow Republican narratives to tear us apart.”
A smaller majority will have consequences for the House.
With fewer centrist Democrats, the leadership will have even less wiggle room to pass bipartisan legislation.
This past caucus, Republicans were able to successfully chip off enough Democratic votes to support motions to recommit, a procedural tool of the minority party — much to the frustrations of Democratic leadership and the liberal wing.
When asked about the contentious call and shifting dynamics, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi projected optimism for keeping her party united.
“Welcome to my world. We always have had a beautiful dynamism in our caucus,” the California Democrat said. “I would say we have a healthy difference of opinion within our caucus, but not in any way to be problematic in how we legislate.”