Nov 10, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats skip soul-searching after holding off red wave


Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Democrats are adopting a glass-half-full mentality — rather than their trademark sullen introspection — after a midterm election that delivered far better results for their party than many analysts had expected.

Why it matters: These initial reactions to an election in which the balance of power in the House remains far from clear offer an early indication of the direction the party and the caucus will go in over the next two years.

What we're hearing: On a call with House Democrats Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) struck a highly positive tone about the results, according to multiple aides and members on the call.

  • "It is a remarkable achievement what all of us did working together," Pelosi told her members, according to one source on the call. She praised Democratic candidates for being "courageous" and having "the stamina to get the job done.”
  • “We said we would make our own environment and we [did]," she said.
  • At the same time, members were told that while a mathematical path to the majority exists, "everything would have to go right" in the remaining uncalled districts for them to keep the House, according to a Democratic aide.

What they're saying: "This is not the kind of election where I think we have to, sort of, wring our hands and wonder what went wrong," Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told Axios.

  • Cicilline, who helped retool Democrats' messaging after the 2016 election, said it's Republicans who "need to do some self-reflection and some deep thinking."
  • "What's taken place is absolutely groundbreaking," Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) said of the result. "It feels good to be a Democrat."
  • "I think Democrats did far better than anybody thought that they would," said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) — though she added the party still has to do "a better job speaking to and earning the support of working class families."

The other side: "So far House Republicans are the lone bright spot [of] the night for Republicans," said one GOP strategist, defending the party's performance. "House [Republicans] have now picked up seats in consecutive cycles."

What we're watching: The better-than-expected result does not appear to have immediately altered the state of play — or some members' desire for fresh blood — in the not-yet-scheduled Democratic leadership elections.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) have given few post-election indications to colleagues about their next moves, according to one House Democrat who spoke to Axios on the condition of anonymity.
  • That hasn't stopped younger members of leadership from making early moves, including House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who huddled with his delegation on Wednesday afternoon, the Democrat said.
  • Cicilline said he is "anxious" for the caucus to benefit from the "enormously talented people" waiting in the wings: "We'll have lots of people who are interested in leadership positions. ... There is no question that there is a tremendous amount of talent pent up talent in the Democratic caucus."
  • "I'm in favor of young folks being at the table as far as leadership is concerned," said Rep-elect Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), who's set to be the first member of Congress from Generation Z.
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