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.
There have also been less ambitious efforts. For instance, CBC and Blue Dog leaders have periodically held meetings to discuss their legislative agendas, and the ethnic minority caucuses are expected to regularly meet this session. But even those efforts have had limited success.
Cleaver said that CBC chairmen have sat “down with whoever is the chair of the Blue Dog Coalition” in the past, but those meetings have never resulted in bridging the policy gaps between the two groups. “Most of the time it’s people walking around angry,” he added.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.