Political Insider

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On Capitol Hill, Democrats lick their wounds as Republicans celebrate after Trump's victory

WASHINGTON -- You'll have to excuse us for feeling a little whiplash here on Capitol Hill.

Earlier this fall, Nancy Pelosi, the House's Democratic leader, called Donald Trump "the gift that keeps on giving" and projected her party was within striking distance of regaining control of the chamber after six years in the wilderness.

How quickly things have changed.

After a disastrous election that saw them unexpectedly lose the White House and maintain their minority status in Congress, Democrats returned to Capitol Hill this week licking their wounds as they faced the reality that they had few remaining footholds of power in Washington.

A private, two-hour meeting in the bowels of the Capitol on Tuesday had lawmakers lining up to express their anger and disbelief at the election results and question whether a change of direction was needed in terms of their leaders and message.

One Ohioan suggested that the party leadership -- the top rungs of which include lawmakers from California, Maryland, South Carolina and New York -- should include representation from the Midwest. Similarly, some Democrats from Rust Belt states said the party needs to think about appealing more to the white blue-collar voters who went overwhelmingly for Trump.

But one Georgia Democrat, Lithonia's Hank Johnson, suggested that was the wrong approach.

"What went wrong in my eyes is that the traditional Democratic voters, minority voters, were taken for granted," said Johnson, whose district includes portions of DeKalb, Rockdale and Newton counties. "There was a lack of enthusiasm because of the lack of outreach."

The grief and soul-searching was enough to prompt Pelosi to agree to delay internal House Democratic elections until after Thanksgiving amid complaints from some of her colleagues.

The delay is a blow to the 76-year-old's clout. Pelosi is likely to win another term as leader of the caucus she's led for 14 years, but the delay gives potential challengers a chance to organize against her.

Johnson said he liked Pelosi but was willing to consider the pitches of any other candidates who step up.


Meanwhile, the mood was jubilant as House Republicans met across the Capitol. Lawmakers emerged from a private meeting Tuesday donning Trump's signature "make America great again" hats.

Much of the infighting that characterized the House GOP over the last several years seemingly melted away with the election of Trump -- at least for now -- as leaders sought to build unity and clear the legislative decks for the president-elect.

"Welcome to the dawn of a new, unified Republican government," Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Tuesday. "It feels really good to say that, actually."

Cassville Republican Barry Loudermilk said the mood as House Republicans met for the first time Monday was excitement and "a sense of relief a little bit."

“It feels great. We have a lot of unity that we had going before but now we have a common agenda with the White House on a lot of thing,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the first 100 days. I think we’re going to be able to do a lot.”

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.