WASHINGTON – House Democratic leadership tried to tamp down fuming lawmakers on a private call Thursday that included finger-pointing, befuddlement and a few tears as Democrats acknowledged being blindsided after losing a number of key races in an election some were projecting as another blue wave.
Democrats went into Election Day boasting they would not only protect freshmen Democrats in battleground districts that helped them take the House majority, but also see wins in Republican strongholds to expand their majority.
Instead, at least seven incumbent House Democrats lost races, with other contests still too close to call. Democrats, though, are still expected to keep the majority. Senate Democrats similarly had a poor election night, being bested by Republican incumbents again and again in races that they were forecasted to win.
House Democrats talked through the aftermath on a private caucus call Thursday afternoon, where lawmakers blamed the media, polling and one another for the losses, according to a source on the at-times heated call. Leadership attempted to paint a rosy picture with former Vice President Joe Biden on track to win the White House, though no winner has been declared as votes in several states are still being counted.
“We lost members who shouldn’t have lost,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a moderate who narrowly won her race in Virginia, said in a heated speech, confirmed a source on the call. “We need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of that.”
She specifically pointed to the defund the police movement and said it hurt her and other moderates who were in tight races.
Spanberger raised her voice, telling fellow Democrats they needed to learn a lesson from this cycle or “we will be f—ing torn apart in 2022.”
Several of the Democrats who lost their races also offered assessments of the election, including Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, one of two moderates in South Florida who lost to Republican challengers.
She started to cry as she described the many messages and calls she’s received from colleagues. “The loss on Tuesday was heartbreaking. I’m not going to lie,” she said, her voice cracking.
Mucarsel-Powell laid into fellow Democrats for criticizing one another, pleading for lawmakers to “please pick up the phone and talk to that person” if you don’t agree with them instead of posting on social media, something she promised she’d keep an eye on after she leaves Congress.
“I’m going to be watching you. I’m going to be holding you accountable. I’m not going to tweet about it,” she said. “I will call you personally because we have a lot to fight for and I’m going to look at you and hope that you will fight for me since I won’t be able to do that.”
Democratic leadership promised answers but appeared equally as stunned by the losses. While some lawmakers have privately discussed whether the poor election outcome merits a shakeup in leadership, no lawmakers discussed the option on the call.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, the chairwoman of House Democrats’ campaign arm who also narrowly won her race in Illinois, touted the caucus keeping the majority but acknowledged “something went wrong here” when it came to polling, including the forecasts she did as part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“I want answers and I know you want answers,” she told Democrats, confirmed a source on the call. “We will do a deep dive. We will do a post-mortem and we will share everything we learn.”
Bustos added that she was “absolutely gutted” by the races Democrats lost.
“I’m hurt by it and I know you’re hurt by it. These are our friends, our colleagues and I wish every last one of them were coming back,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi similarly touted Democrats’ ability to hold on to the House and Biden’s path to the White House.
“We did not win every battle but we did win the war,” she told her caucus, noting that Democrats did well in 2018 when the president was not up for re-election. “Clearly with Trump on the ballot, we knew it would be a steeper climb.”
She pushed back on Spanberger, who called the election a failure. “I do disagree that it was a failure. We won the House. And we won the presidency,” Pelosi said, though Biden has not been declared the winner as a handful of states continue counting ballots.
Contributing: Ledyard King
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House Democrats angry over election losses as leaders promises answers