Nov 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Top House Democrat says "defund police," other "sloganeering" cost seats

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn isn't happy with his Democratic caucus for allowing slogans to dominate the narrative about their party, telling "Axios on HBO" that phrases like "defund the police" cost them crucial seats in the House and Senate.

Why it matters: Democrats might have won the White House, but their party underperformed expectations in the congressional elections, and some members are publicly and privately blaming their more liberal colleagues.

  • Democrats were bullish about expanding their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives ahead of the election, but ended up losing at least seven seats and some of their freshman members who flipped Republican districts just two years ago.
  • They still maintain control of that chamber, but failed to win the Senate outright. (That could change if Democratic candidates win both of the Georgia Senate runoffs in January.)

What they're saying: "Well, it happened simply because we were not able to discipline ourselves," Clyburn told "Axios on HBO."

  • "We keep making that mistake. This foolishness about, 'You got to be this progressive or that progressive,'" he added.
  • "That phrase — 'defund the police' — cost Jaime Harrison tremendously," Clyburn said of the Democratic Senate candidate who failed to unseat Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham South Carolina.

Between the lines: Though Clyburn acknowledged that wasn't the only reason for Harrison's loss, he took aim at the "sloganeering" around liberal policies and implored his Democratic colleagues "to be as practical as I am."

  • "Stop sloganeering," he said. "Sloganeering kills people. Sloganeering destroys movements. Stop sloganeering. And let's go about the business of representing people and building hopes and aspirations for people."
  • Clyburn isn't alone. Last week, leaked audio from a Democratic caucus-wide conference call revealed several members feel the same.
  • Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas said these slogans gave Republicans ammunition to use in “commercial after commercial” against their candidates.
  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who eked out a re-election victory in Virginia, took aim at her colleagues who have embraced the "defund the police" movement and said Democrats needed to be better at fighting the "socialism" label.
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