House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will begin holding regular meetings with the leaders of his Caucus’ various factions in the hopes of avoiding the kinds of internal fights that have plagued Democrats over the past two years.
According to Democratic lawmakers, Hoyer hopes to huddle several times a month with the leaders of a handful of groups, including the Congressional Black Caucus, Blue Dog Coalition, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Cooperation in policy development and messaging will be key as House Democrats navigate their new minority status in a divided government, House Democratic leaders said. “We are in the minority, so we need to be coordinating a heck of a lot better,” CHC Chairman Charlie Gonzalez (Texas) said Friday.
Topics would likely range from specific legislation on the floor and other immediate issues to broader discussions on the direction of the Caucus. The idea, participants said, is to find common ground among the Caucus’ normally warring factions.
“I am thrilled that the Whip is going to pull groups together that from time to time bump into each other politically,” CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said Friday. Finding “common ground on legislative initiatives ... [is] a stroke of genius.”
Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl Grijalva agreed Friday, saying the meetings would be a good way to determine “what’s the common ground, what we can agree on and how we can be effective on those agreement points.”
“I think it’s an excellent idea. We’re going to disagree. But there is some common ground, and we should take health care being the most recent example,” the Arizona Democrat added.
“I really applaud him for getting this together,” Gonzalez said, adding that the ethnic and philosophical differences within the House Democratic Caucus make such efforts necessary. “Our Caucus is pretty diverse. We don’t enjoy the luxury the Republican Caucus does” in terms of demographic and philosophical unity.
“It takes a little more work and cooperation on our side of the aisle,” he said.
Although Republicans have long been known for their ability to present a united front despite divisions between Christian conservatives and fiscal hawks, Democrats have rarely demonstrated similar discipline.
The last time Democrats were able to put aside their differences came in the wake of the 2004 elections, when Democrats were last in the minority. President George W. Bush began a push to privatize Social Security, and Democrats rallied around their opposition, putting aside their own differences to block the effort and ultimately retake control of the House.
Since then, there have been efforts to organize the factions. For instance, Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) convened similar meetings in the previous session, but without as much regularity.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.