Even though Biden appears to be edging Trump out in the presidential race, assuming a volley of recounts and Supreme Court lawsuits do not materially change the outcome in battleground states, it is undisputable that the election did not go as Democrats had desired: between Trump's pick up of 2 million votes in the popular vote, the loss of Hispanic votes in Florida and Texas, and the elephant in the room - the inability to retake the Senate, condemning a possible Biden administration to at least two years of Congressional gridlock eliminating the chance of a tax overhaul or a Green New Deal - there is no disputing that the Democrats failed to achieve most of their goals.
And now the blame game begins, with The Hill reporting that stung by their party’s disappointing showing at the polls Tuesday, "two moderate House Democrats say they and other centrists are privately discussing a plan that was unthinkable just 24 hours earlier: throwing their support behind a challenger to Speaker Nancy Pelosi."
The two Democrats told The Hill on Wednesday that they were reaching out to their colleagues about backing one of Pelosi’s top lieutenants, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), for Speaker.
“He’s the only one prepared and positioned” to be Speaker, one of the Democratic lawmakers told the Hill. “He bridges moderates and progressives better than anyone. And most importantly, he’s not Nancy Pelosi.”
According to the report, the grumbling "reflects a remarkable shift in internal Democratic thinking in the immediate wake of Tuesday’s elections" - the reason: while Pelosi and Democratic leaders had promised to build on their majority — some estimates were in the double digits — but the early returns revealed a different reality: Not only did Democrats fail to protect a number of their most vulnerable members, they had not picked off a single Republican incumbent heading into Wednesday afternoon. Instead, lawmakers were left "licking their wounds and questioning the messaging and strategy decisions heading into Tuesday’s polls."
While Democrats will keep control of the House, and the results of many races remain unknown while votes are still counted, the party saw the defeat of at least seven of their front-line members — the sitting lawmakers in the toughest districts. And of the 38 "red-to-blue" districts they were eyeing as potential gains, Republicans have already won 21 and are leading in another 14.
This is how Bloomberg summarized the dismal Democratic showing:
Across the board, Democrats failed to meet the Election Day expectations raised by polls and independent analysts. The party took Senate seats from Republicans in Colorado and Arizona, but unless they win outstanding races in Maine and Georgia, they won’t have the majority in that chamber.
At least seven House Democratic incumbents were defeated, including Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, who has represented his Minnesota district since 1991. Other Democratic losses came in Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Carolina. More are still vulnerable, including some who had pressed Pelosi to compromise on a stimulus bill, such as Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger and New York’s Max Rose.
One cited reason cited for the unexpected drop in Democratic support, was Pelosi's unwillingness to negotiation with the GOP over a new fiscal stimulus, and failing to follow the advice of former Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein who on Oct 14 urged the speaker to accept the Republican stimulus offer, then comfortably win in the House and Senate races, and pass her own stimulus.
Stimulus bill: Dems want $2.2trio and Reps offer $1.8trio, more than 80% the ask. Dems should take the lesser amount now, to save lives and jobs, and top up after the election, when Dems control more of the govt. If Dems don’t win the WH or the senate, they have bigger problems!!— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) October 14, 2020
She refused to listen, and now she has bigger problems.
An easy scapegoat for the Democratic failure, Pelosi has emerged an early target for moderates representing suburban districts worried that their leadership's strategy hurt such members ahead of the elections. And one of the two lawmakers who spoke to The Hill said a number of Democrats representing suburban and exurban districts had been talking about the need for a change.
“It’s time for Democrats to elevate a new generation of leadership in both the House and the Senate,” the lawmaker said. “Americans are clearly afraid of ‘socialism,’ want safe streets and neighborhoods and to vote for people who they believe will help put more money in their pockets. While Democratic policies can adequately address those issues, our messaging mechanism clearly cannot.”
The plan is still in its early stages, with the pair of Democrats saying they were in the process of reaching out to all of the “suburban survivors” of Tuesday night’s elections and had already spoken to two dozen members from various factions of the caucus, including the Congressional Black Caucus, Progressive Caucus, New Democrat Coalition and bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Any attempt to oust the House speaker would be news to Pelosi, who told reporters before the elections that she would run for Speaker again if the Democrats kept control of the House. Asked about a potential challenge to Pelosi, her chief spokesman, Drew Hammill, wrote in an email to The Hill: “Today is not about the race for Speaker. Today is about the race for the White House and ensuring that our Members and candidates in uncalled races have the support they need. That is our focus.”
To be sure, Pelosi, 80, is no stranger to leadership challenges. Although she led the Democrats' House takeover in the 2018 midterm elections, she still faced tough resistance within her own ranks in retaking the gavel after eight years in the minority. Fifteen Democrats bucked Pelosi and voted against her on the House floor after Democrats won back the House two years ago. But she still secured 220 votes that year — two more than what she needed to win the Speaker’s gavel.
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A potential uprising against Pelosi may be further kindled by the Democrats' loss of leverage in ongoing stimulus negotiations: according to Bloomberg, Congressional Democrats face a loss of leverage in negotiations over a new U.S. stimulus package after a disappointing showing on Election Day that left Senator Mitch McConnell potentially with a renewed mandate as majority leader.
The results so far - with Democrats facing a trimmed majority in the House and virtually zero odds for re-taking the Senate - point to a smaller Covid-19 relief bill than the roughly $2 trillion that had been discussed by the Trump administration and Democratic leaders before the Nov. 3 election.
"Hopefully the partisan passions that prevented us from doing a rescue package have subsided,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who had advocated a much smaller package, said on Wednesday. “That’s job one when we get back."
While stocks hit session highs after McConnell’s comments, they have drifted lower since amid speculation a potential rebellion within Democratic ranks could lead to far small fiscal aid.
While Democrats have said they will continue to push for a multi-trillion dollar stimulus bill in the post-election lame-duck session, no matter who wins the White House, and Pelosi said late last month she wants to complete a deal with President Donald Trump’s administration even if Joe Biden wins in order to give him a “clean slate” before Inauguration Day in January, that task has become far more difficult given the rough election night for Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
Of course, the biggest leverage is that the GOP appears set to retain the Senate. Indeed, Republicans in the Senate have been the main obstacle to enactment of a $2 trillion or greater package, and the GOP looks increasingly likely to hold onto its majority there. That is sure to embolden spending hawks who have pushed for a smaller stimulus package of $500 billion or less, without direct stimulus checks or large-scale aid to state and local governments.
The GOP also will face pressure from conservative activists - who were oddly silent for the past 4 years - not to deliver Biden a major legislative victory - especially one that would add to an already record budget deficit.
“My advice toward Senate Republicans is to take the approach to a Biden presidency that they did toward Clinton and Obama, which was don’t give them any votes for truly bad pieces of legislation,” said anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. “Why would you put your fingerprints on something that is just a massive bailout for corrupt mayors and incompetent governors?”
Adding to the Democrats' senatorial wose, with a narrower majority in the new Congress, it may be difficult for Pelosi to find the consensus to pass a relief bill. Finally, if Pelosi continues to insist on a package greater than the $1.9 trillion offered by the White House, she will face pressure to compromise quickly from the remaining moderate Democrats who are vital to the party’s House majority. And if she refuses, the fledgling rebellion against Pelosi will become a full-blown revolt.