It appears our midterm, newly elected Democrats are early on showing their colors. (See the House new members in an orientation session above.) Two groups exist in the House which have separated themselves from the more progressive members and have formed loose voting blocks to achieve their own goals. Will it lead to a house divided and ineffective? The two groups are:
- The Blue Dogs (48 members equally divided been R’s and D’s) “dedicated to fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense, & bipartisanship.”
- The Problem Solvers (24 members equally divided between R’s and D’s) who “seek to create bi-partisan cooperation on key policy issues.” Rep. Gottheimer (CD 5) is the Democratic Co-Chair.
Three of the five seriously challenged midterm Democrats who won with a substantial majority, Gottheimer, Sherrill, and Van Drew are in the Blue Dogs camp. The two other D’s who won in much closer races, Malinowski and Kim, are so far staying away from both groups and seemingly more committed to their progressive goals.
- CD 2 Jeff Van Drew: In his district there are 16,000 more registered D’s than R’s, the highest amount of any of the five candidates, so he appears less threatened by the other party even though moderate LoBiondo (R) held the seat for many years. Van Drew’s decision to join the Blue Dogs is not out of sheer necessity, but intrinsic in his philosophy. In spite of his several more liberal campaign promises, he more than other D’s is less likely to support progressive issues. Grass roots efforts need to be constant and powerful to urge him vote Yes on key bills. It’s never too early to seek out and groom a D candidate to challenge him in the primary, but unless he/she is wealthy the challenger needs early funding to launch an effective campaign.
- CD 3 Andy Kim: Here he has 12,000 more D’s than R’s. He won a very close race against “money bags,” Trump supporter MacArthur in a district which has voted for R’s for many years with one exception (Adler). He has not succumbed to the Blue Dogs or Problem solvers, but he will need on-going consttiuent support to maintain a progressive posture.
- CD 5 Josh Gottheimer: His district is the least Democratic with 3,000 more D’s than R’s. He won with a strong majority but remains fixed on his notion to seek bipartisanship. He is likely to vote in favor on some fiscal issues on which we may not agree, but to be supportive of progressive social matters.
- CD 7 Tom Malinowski: In a district with 7,000 more R’s than D’s, he won a close race. His Republican predecessor Leonard Lance (R), like a weather vane, shifted positions on the drop of a dime. Malinowski has eschewed joining one of these two groups but he will have to watch his step and receive encouragement from progressive voters.
- CD 11 Mikie Sherrill: She has 6,000 more R’s than D’s in her district long held by Rodney Frelinghuysen (R). Although early on viewed as more progressive, it became apparent even before Election Day that her predilections were moderate. She won the race with a resounding victory and probably has more leeway to choose her own path.
There remains a “push vs. pull” effect for the newly elected – to satisfy their progressive base vs. maintain support from the nonaffiliated voters, and more moderate D and R voters. It was a grass-roots force that propelled our four new Dems to victory. It will necessitate a similar force to assure that they stick to their promises.
One of the goals of the above two groups is that bills passed in the House be bi-partisan. In effect they should be passed with some Republican support, which could mean a slightly less progressive bill than what we might wish. Such is not necessarily a bad thing. For a bill to become a law, the Senate, now more firmly in Republican hands, has also to pass it. Furthermore, if Trump opposes it, there has to be a veto-override – difficult in the House and even more so in the Senate. There will be bills on which progressive House members will want to make a “do or die” stance, but on others for which it’s better to accept a smaller pie than no pie at all.
Most immediately some federal government departments have to be re-funded or else there will be a partial government shut-down. Trump wants an absurd amount of money for his beloved wall, while D’s have their objectives, and in the end some middle path will have to emerge.
Finally, what could become particularly problematic is if House splinter groups and progressives can’t get along with each other. Today’s voting support for Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker is probably not what many progressives wanted, but she is a forceful, experienced and even wily leader who seems suited to work with and cajole when necessary different members in order to push through positive bills we seek. The House is now the first essential step toward more progressive legislation. However, as Abraham Lincoln said in another context, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”