House Democrats gathered at a strategy retreat this week in dire need of a pep talk, after seeing their influence sharply reduced by last year's election and enduring a number of internal debates that eroded morale.
They got one from President
"The record shows that we were right," Obama told the dispirited lawmakers Thursday, trying to spread some of his postelection swagger.
Yet as they begin a third term in the House minority, Democratic leaders face their smallest caucus in 70 years and a growing list of complaints from rank-and-file members over policy fights, messaging and more.
The good news for Rep.
First, House Republicans passed legislation to undo the president's new
"We have fiddled while Rome has burned for the middle class," Rep.
As Democrats left their three-day gathering Friday, there was a sense that they needed to unite behind a new middle-class-focused message before the GOP beat them to it.
"The Republican Party is going to try to claim this resurgence, and they're going to misrepresent that it was because of … policies that they supported," Vice President
Democratic leaders conducted a survey seeking their restive members' input on what went wrong last year and what themes they should unite behind now. Only half responded, but the results indicated in part that the party's message was too muddled.
"It's not that the Democrats don't have a message. It's that we had too many," Pelosi told reporters here. "The public didn't see the clarity and the focus of the message."
"There is a sense, I believe, that many people in the middle class have that if you're very rich, the government will bail you out, and if you're very poor, the government will help you out. But if you're somewhere in between, the government just doesn't care about you," he said. "That's why we've got to focus on those investments and that support for the security of the middle class."
In that vein, Democrats — tweaking
The relationship between congressional Democrats and the administration, often rocky, was arguably at a low point in November. In his remarks Thursday, the president said he was prepared to take his share of the blame for steep losses. Biden was more apologetic for the White House, saying, "We have been a political heavy load to carry."
The issue most likely to divide the party in the near term is trade, with Obama seeking support for so-called fast-track authority to consider new agreements, primarily the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership being negotiated with Pacific nations.
In an address to Democrats,
"Trade is one of the middle-class issues, and it has to be looked at in terms of the potential impact on the middle class," said Rep.
In a Q-and-A session after his public remarks, the president pleaded: "Keep your powder a little dry," according to someone present, who shared details of the private session on condition of anonymity. Obama added later: "Get informed, not by reading the Huffington Post."
But Obama and Biden both said that the administration was charting a course focused on the middle class that they believed the party could unite behind, and that the time for internal squabbling was over.
"Stop nitpicking, those of you who said we should have done A, B, C or D," Biden said Friday. "Embrace success. Make the case. Fight."
Members have largely applauded the president's newly aggressive approach and say they'll seek to build on it.
But ironically, it is last year's Democratic losses that have allowed Obama to go up against a Republican-dominated
"I wouldn't want to say to Harry Reid, 'I'm glad you lost the majority,'" said Hoyer, the Democratic whip. "Frankly, it's going to be somewhat beneficial because it will make it very clear who wants to do what.... The president is freed up."