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Some of the most combative House Democrats will be gone from the chamber next year, leaving the Caucus without its more outspoken liberal and fiscally conservative Members.
Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, is just the latest Democratic agitator to announce he will not seek another term. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), another Blue Dog who had a falling out with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), opted against running for re-election, and Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.), the go-to voice on a host of liberal issues and a skilled floor manager, will also be gone after this year.
The string of retirements has moderates wondering who the next leadership agitator will be, while liberals await the next Frank-like figure for their causes.
“It’s more than a loss of volume,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I think we’re losing some significant institutional memory, and we’re losing some battle-tested Members that know how to engage the opposition, and so it’s a loss and others will have to step into that gap.”
Moderates are also eager to find their next outspoken voice to joust with the liberals who dominate the Caucus’ membership.
“I think the Caucus needs diversity of ideas, and I think traditionally, that’s been the strength of the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Jim Costa (Calif.), a Blue Dog who is running for re-election.
Costa is running in a reapportioned district currently represented by Cardoza, a one-time confidant of Pelosi’s who was ousted from the leadership table. Cardoza was outspoken in his criticism of her leadership after that episode but has since patched up their relationship. Still, his exit means one less foil.
Another combative Californian, Rep. Jane Harman, left Congress last year to lead the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Harman and Pelosi shared one of the most infamous intraparty rivalries in recent Congressional history, and chamber observers mourned the end of that relationship after Harman stepped down.
Harman was a Blue Dog, and her exit, as well as the retirements of Shuler, Cardoza and Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), have depleted the group’s ranks. That has led to some worry that liberals will become an overwhelming voice in the Caucus.
“When you have someone like Shuler, who has a credible voice in the Caucus and can generally speak in the more rural Democratic areas that we need to win, and we’re losing those voices ... it shows weakness from so many different standpoints,” one Democratic chief of staff said.