Washington – Connecticut’s members of the U.S. House, all Democrats who were re-elected by healthy margins in a bad year for their party, will return to work next week amid a new political reality and with a Democratic Party in disarray.
Donald Trump’s triumph has left the Democrats in desperate search of a new leader now that President Obama is on his way out and Hillary Clinton is expected to leave the scene.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to continue as leader of the House Democrats when they hold their leadership elections next week.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, a Pelosi ally, is expected to keep her job as a co-chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. At one point, Steering and Policy leadership positions were supposed to come with term limits, but DeLauro has kept her seat at the table for years past what would be her expiration date.
“I serve at the pleasure of the leadership,” DeLauro said
She said Democrats of any stripe must focus on the economy to regain their footing.
“It’s not a question of what you call yourself, it’s about, front and center, economic issues and how to create rising incomes for people,” she said. “I think Democrats are well placed to do that.”
The progressive wing of the party, represented by DeLauro in Connecticut, has become energized by Trump’s win.
They are pushing one of their own, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which DeLauro is a member, to become the new head of the Democratic National Committee. The committee was tarnished by leaked emails that showed it supported Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries.
The progressives’ pick for the DNC is caucus co-chair Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim in the U.S. House.
“The Democratic establishment had their chance with this election. It’s time for new leadership of the Democratic Party – younger, more diverse, and more ideological – that is hungry to do things differently, like leading a movement instead of dragging people to the polls,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Howard Dean, former Democratic governor of Vermont and founder of the progressive Democracy for America PAC, tweeted Thursday that he also wants to run for head of the DNC, a position he’s held before.
Democratic soul searching
Taylor said, “Democrats will lose, over and over, until they have a willingness to take on corporate power and other entrenched power in a very real and authentic way.”
But Democrats, including members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, said they would not be obstructionists in the same way Republicans were with President Obama’s agenda.
DeLauro said there may be an opportunity to deal with Trump on issues like increased infrastructure spending, paid sick leave, paid family leave and affordable child care.
“We’ll work with him when we can agree, and when we disagree we won’t,” she said.
Ron Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said the two parties embrace different ideologies about the purpose of government.
“Republicans don’t like government and [in Congress] can be obstructionists without much of a problem,” said Schurin. “Democrats believe in government” and need to make the mechanics of the legislative process work.
In a post-election note to supporters, Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said, “There will be a lot of soul-searching in the coming weeks and months.”
Himes is a co-founder of the centrist New Democrat Coalition who raised a lot of money for Clinton’s campaign.
“If we dismiss rather than understand the millions of Americans who voted for Donald Trump, we will perpetuate the very problem we need to solve,” Himes said in his note to supporters. “Instead, we can build an optimistic coalition of union members and small businessmen, of blue-collar whites and northeastern black professors, of gay activists and southern Christians, among others. Challenging, yes. Impossible?”
Himes once worked on Wall Street and earned the enmity of progressives in his party for voting to “fast-track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty. But he shares at least one thing with his more liberal colleagues – doubts about Trump’s ability to succeed.
“At some level, Trump will fail; he cannot possibly deliver a fraction of the many contradictory things he promised,” Himes predicted. “He will blame the Republican leaders who never embraced him. That will get very ugly.”
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District is expected to keep his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee and likely be in the thick of things if Trump finds common ground with House GOP leaders on tax reform. Trump’s tax plan is similar to Ryan’s.
Like many Democrats, Larson said the Republican role has changed from blocking and trying to change Obama’s agenda to governing the nation.
“With the Republicans now in control of all levers of government – including the executive branch, both legislative chambers, and the pathway to the Supreme Court – the responsibility of governing rests with the majority,” Larson said.
It’s not clear how Trump will influence the work of the lame-duck session of Congress that begins next week. The prospect of a Republican president, however, has increased the calls of GOP conservatives to push off work on a 2017 budget until next year, continuing instead to fund the federal government at 2016 levels with a continuing resolution.