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Senate Democrats Talk Life in Minority, Plot Comeback

Manchin (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Manchin (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Democrats held a meeting Wednesday that they hoped would end intraparty finger-pointing after tough election losses, and discussed their new minority role in next Congress.  

“The healing process is beginning,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III said.  

Senators heard from their colleagues who won’t be coming back next Congress including Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, Manchin said.  

Manchin added, “We hope to do things a little differently.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who helped lead the meeting with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said it would be “the first of many” discussions to come on how to take back the majority in 2016. Schumer is the chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and Stabenow is DPCC vice chairman.  

One Democratic senator, speaking on background, said the group is looking to rebound from its loss, and the first step was doing a little reflecting on 2014 and discussing what the strategy will be in the minority for the coming two years.  

The senator said there seemed to be a desire among the Democrats to work with Republicans to get things done.  

“Senators come and go and majorities come and go, but we’ve got to do better around here about taking care of the nation’s business. I think that was a big part of today, trying to figure out how to do that in this numerical environment … and this political environment,” the senator said.  

Heading into the meeting several Democrats were eager to discuss with their colleagues how they will handle being in the minority.  

Of the 46 Democrats who will return in the next Congress — excluding the undecided Louisiana senate race — 31 have never been in the minority. Many said they don’t want to continue in the Republican minority’s footsteps, which they said sought to obstruct Democrats and the president at every turn.  

“I’m interested in breaking this cycle of obstructionism,” said Sen. Christpher S. Murphy, D-Conn. “I hopefully am going to get to be here for a little while, and I’m not interested in the minority, you know, simply seeing their role as stopping everything the majority wants to do. I think … if we just fill the role that the Republicans filled, we might get back into power, but we’ll be out as soon as we’re in.”  

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., agreed and praised Democratic leaders for holding the meeting. She noted that the Senate gridlock that has resulted from the standoff between the parties has turned off voters.  

“We need to get out of this tactical food fight that has really disgusted the American people,” McCaskill said prior to the meeting. “So I think it’s pretty important that we focus on what it is we want to spend our energy and time trying to accomplish as opposed to trying to make the other guys look bad.”  

McCaskill said she was proud the Democrats are doing some soul-searching after taking a “shellacking” on Election Day.  

Democrats have been sniping at one another since voters gave Republicans a 53-46 majority in the chamber, having added eight seats, with Louisiana set to be decided by a Saturday runoff.  

But most senators played down any division.  

The feuding is “no more than you would expect after a tough election,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said. “The degree of sniping is exactly the same as you would see in a locker room after you lose a football game, and in fact I think we are already beyond that and now into the planning mode, which is helpful.”  

The feuding spilled into public view after Schumer gave a speech last week where he argued it was a mistake for Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House to prioritize the overhaul of the health care system the way they did when they controlled both chambers back in 2009 and 2010.  

His comments sparked other Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to publicly and sharply disagree.  

Asked about Schumer’s comment, Kaine said the speech as a whole was constructive, but said he agreed with Pelosi that passing health care was the right call.  

“The ACA was a great thing,” said Kaine, who produced a letter from a constituent praising the law for making easier for him to start a family. “It was great for the uninsured … it was good for the insured” who no can no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions.  

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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