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Days after Republicans defied expectations by picking up seats in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy cited a junior member of Congress — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) — as one of the reasons he was able to raise so much money.

Driving the news: "Well, she runs the floor," McCarthy told "Axios on HBO" last night when asked why Republicans respond so vociferously to AOC.

  • "That wing of the party, the socialist wing of the party, they are the new power of the Democratic Party. ... You watched on the floor. Legislation couldn't be passed unless AOC agreed with it."

Why it matters: House Democrats underperformed Biden in down-ballot races across the country and they're scrambling to figure out why.

  • Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) said she wouldn't run for re-election as chair of House Democrats' campaign arm after a heated caucus call last in which one moderate member warned her colleagues: "We need to not ever use the words socialist or socialism ever again."

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the top African-American lawmaker in the House, had a similar message, telling "Axios on HBO": "Stop sloganeering. Sloganeering kills people. Sloganeering destroys movements."

  • "This foolishness about you got to be this progressive or that progressive. That phrase "defund the police" cost Jaime Harrison tremendously. I'm not saying it was the only problem," Clyburn told Alexi McCammond, acknowledging that he was angry.
  • "When you ask somebody, 'Why would you want to defund the police?' They'll tell you, 'That's not what we mean. This is what we mean.' My position is in politics, the moment you start explaining what you mean, you are losing the argument."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) defended his colleagues in the Progressive Caucus, saying it's "normal" and "healthy" to have disagreements in a big-tent party — while pushing back on the idea that slogans like "defund the police" are the reason Democrats lost.

  • "Eighty-something percent in the exit polls said they trusted Donald Trump more on the economy than they trusted the Democrats. That's a sobering, shocking statistic," Khanna told Jonathan Swan. "They trusted us on everything else."
  • Khanna added that he believes the role of progressives in a reduced majority will be to continue to vote and build consensus on ideas like Medicare for All, even if they have no chance of making it through a GOP-controlled Senate.
  • "I view politics as a long game. And I think we have to push for wins on our policies, not compromise on them, while at the same time looking for what we can do in the here and now."

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - Podcasts

Rep. Ro Khanna on top tech priorities, including Robinhood and Section 230

Big Tech is something all Americans use and most Americans complain about, no matter their political affiliation.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper into the Biden administration's top Big Tech priorities, plus discussion of Section 230 and Reddit day trading with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

Scoop: GOP ignored its early fears about Marjorie Taylor Greene

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

During previously unreported meetings last summer, House Republican leaders discussed — but then largely set aside — fears that QAnon-supporting conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene would end up a flaming trainwreck for their party.

Why it matters: Greene has emerged not just as an embarrassment but a challenge for the GOP, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy now forced to weigh whether to maintain his policy of sanctioning members who make dangerous statements.

Airlines, unions want DOJ to prosecute unruly passengers

Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A coalition of airline industry partners asked the Justice Department on Monday to begin prosecuting disruptive passengers.

Why it matters: Increased political divisions and conflict over pandemic guidelines have led the Federal Aviation Administration to take some form of enforcement action over 400 times in the first five months of 2021, compared to 146 in all of 2019, according to the coalition.