Huddled House Democrats Face ‘Cold, Hard Realism’

From their snowy retreat, they see an icy road ahead.

A snowman wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap along the National Mall after a snow storm in Washington, DC, on February 13, 2014. The DC area received its first significant winter storm starting Wednesday night February 12th with 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) falling throughout the metro area.
National Journal
Billy House
Feb. 13, 2014, 1:35 p.m.

CAM­BRIDGE, Md. — Dreary weath­er, low turnout, and an icy polit­ic­al out­look for this year’s elec­tion chilled the House Demo­crat­ic re­treat here. Even an ap­pear­ance by Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden got snowed out.

Pres­id­ent Obama is still ex­pec­ted to speak Fri­day to the 110 or so law­makers — just over half the caucus — who made it to talk strategy at a tony hotel bet­ter suited for sum­mer. And Biden is apt to make it, too.

But dig­ging out of this mal­aise will take more en­ergy than Obama’s speech can de­liv­er, even as Demo­crat­ic lead­ers cir­cu­lated word that the pres­id­ent has com­mit­ted to do at least six fun­draisers for House Demo­crats.

“It’s not pess­im­ism — just as it’s not op­tim­ism,” said Rep. Jim Himes of Con­necti­c­ut, the na­tion­al fin­ance chair of the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. “It is cold, hard real­ism.”

The House ma­jor­ity is now held by 232 Re­pub­lic­ans, and the GOP could gain seats in this year’s elec­tion. That means Demo­crats are fa­cing the real­ity that they are likely to re­main the minor­ity party, and the re­treat seemed to fo­cus more on the polit­ic­al land­scape than on policy.

Demo­crats are stuck with a le­gis­lat­ive wish list — items like im­mig­ra­tion re­form and a min­im­um-wage in­crease — that the GOP ma­jor­ity won’t abide. Mean­while, le­gis­la­tion that might gain trac­tion, like ad­dress­ing sur­veil­lance is­sues, is not likely not give Demo­crats a boost in Novem­ber.

At the same time, Demo­crats on the cam­paign trail know they must brace for cri­ti­cism as part of a do-noth­ing Con­gress, even though they are not at the helm, as well as Re­pub­lic­an body blows over the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Even Rep. Steve Is­rael, chair of the DCCC, played less the cheer­lead­er on Thursday than, as Himes puts it, “so­mone who calls it like it is” dur­ing an hour-long, closed-door present­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to those in the room, Is­rael led off with the mes­sage that “some fights are worth fight­ing.”

Is­rael said there are 11 GOP-held seats that Demo­crats con­sider com­pet­it­ive, and ar­gued that “it’s a myth that re­tire­ments have hurt us.” He also said the DCCC so far has out­raised the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, though the im­pact of out­side groups could off­set that.

Is­rael also presen­ted polling that shows “on the is­sues that mat­ter to the Amer­ic­an people, we’re win­ning.” He ticked off rais­ing the min­im­um wage, ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, and im­ple­ment­ing Obama­care.

Rep. Debbie Wasser­man Schultz of Flor­ida, chair the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee, also gave a private present­a­tion, but de­clined af­ter­ward to say if she be­lieved her party could take the House this Novem­ber. “We’re not mak­ing pre­dic­tions,” she said.

Of course, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Is­rael in par­tic­u­lar star­ted on a light note. “He opened with a video — it was ter­rif­ic — of great fights that have been fought, in­clud­ing John Be­lushi in An­im­al House [shout­ing], ‘Was it over when the Ger­mans bombed Pearl Har­bor?’,” Himes said.

Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er jok­ingly sug­ges­ted that the re­cently an­nounced re­tire­ments of GOP Reps. Doc Hast­ings and Buck McK­eon might sig­nal that “they don’t ex­pect to keep the ma­jor­ity.”

There were some policy dis­cus­sions, too. Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi and oth­er House Demo­crat­ic lead­ers gathered to an­nounce Demo­crats will start the pro­cess of try­ing to force a vote on a min­im­um-wage in­crease to $10.10 an hour through dis­charge pe­ti­tion when the cham­ber re­con­venes later this month.

Such a meas­ure would re­quire a ma­jor­ity of House mem­bers to sign the pe­ti­tion, mean­ing it would re­quire some Re­pub­lic­an sup­port to ad­vance. Demo­crat­ic lead­ers also did not rule out a sim­il­ar ef­fort on im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

“We think that’s not only the right thing to do, it’s time to do it,” said Rep. Xavi­er Be­cerra, chair­man of the House Demo­crat­ic Caucus.

One thing that ap­par­ently was not dis­cussed, law­makers say, was any un­hap­pi­ness with Pelosi and her lead­er­ship team.

“There is ab­so­lutely zero rum­bling,” Himes said.

“There is ab­so­lutely no talk, you know — even after three or four drinks — about ‘Is our lead­er­ship not do­ing enough?’,” Himes said.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4735) }}

What We're Following See More »
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
1 days ago

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
2 days ago

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
2 days ago

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
2 days ago
California: It’s Not Over Yet
2 days ago

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.