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New Democrat Coalition Sees Opportunity in Party’s Losses

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New Democrat Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley says the coalition needs to be assertive in the next Congress after losing more than 20 members in the midterms.

“The Democratic Caucus has shrunk, and in terms of percentage of members the moderate centrists’ percentage has shrunk with that,” he said. “So making sure that there’s a strong pro-business centrist bloc in the Congress that is articulate and is willing to work with leadership and others in the Caucus to get things done and across the aisle is really important.”

The group has only had one meeting to analyze the 111th Congress and the midterm elections, according to several Members and aides who attended. It will also hold a retreat, usually scheduled in January, to further solidify the issues it will tackle and to create task forces.

One senior Democratic aide said the coalition’s effectiveness will depend on whether it moves aggressively from the outset of the session.

“They don’t have the luxury to wait and see how things unfold,” the aide said. “The administration is trying to move, and clearly, at least in the last couple of weeks, they are trying to find common ground with Republicans.”

That could bode well for the New Democrats, whose districts are considered more liberal than Blue Dogs’, and so they may be able to take on a more public role in the negotiations than the fiscal conservatives. “Typically the makeup of [the Blue Dogs’] districts make it a little harder for them to work with the administration,” the aide said.

The group’s course in the 112th Congress will be set by its new leadership. A senior Democratic aide close to the New Democrats said they are expected to meet after the 112th Congress begins next month to select their leaders, and Crowley has not yet publicly said whether he plans to run for another term as chairman.

There will also be a shake-up at the second-tier leadership level. Rep. Melissa Bean (Ill.), one of the group’s four vice chairmen, was unseated in November, and there is speculation that Vice Chairman Adam Smith (Wash.) will step down now that he has been named the next ranking member on the Armed Services Committee. 

Smith’s spokesman, Michael Amato, said his boss would remain a committed member of the New Democrat Coalition.

“These are decisions that will be made early next year,” Amato said in a statement regarding whether the Washington state Democrat would leave the New Democrats’ leadership ranks.

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