Divisions within Democratic and Republican parties come to the forefront


Newly empowered Democrats are split over a $15 minimum wage hike, the president’s war powers and other policy issues, while distracted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) harassment scandal, which worsens by the day.

Republicans are having a full-blown existential crisis as former President Trump and his allies look to banish GOP lawmakers who rebuked him after a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Two months into the 117th Congress, leaders in both parties are fighting to iron out internal divisions within their own ranks. But the breadth and scale of their difficulties occupy different universes. While the Democrats are sniping over specific provisions of their policy agenda, Republicans are battling to prevent a full-scale civil war from cleaving the party for years to come.

Republicans “are struggling with craziness. They are struggling with insurrectionists,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said on Tuesday. “And we are struggling with how to get aid to the maximum number of people and lift people up across the country.”

The disparate intraparty clashes are a consequence of an extraordinary few months that saw Trump lose the election, refuse to acknowledge defeat, encourage thousands of supporters to gather in Washington to reverse the results and then get impeached for his role in the deadly attack on the Capitol that followed.

Democrats are more united in the aftermath of the chaos, but they also lost House seats this cycle, making it tougher for them to legislate. Republicans gained power in the lower chamber, but are deeply divided over Trump, making their message complicated. Still, both parties are striving for the same goal: They need to unify their side of the aisle to win over voters in 2022 when the House and Senate will be up for grabs.

Trump should be taking aim at President Biden — not fellow Republicans, said Rep. Ann Wagner (Mo.), who was not among the 139 Republicans who voted to overturn the election results.

“We don’t need any other sideshow, chatter, infighting. What we need to be is unified against this terrible Democrat agenda that is literally against everything that Joe Biden spoke about in terms of unity and coming together in a bipartisan fashion,” Wagner said.

“If we don’t carry that message, then shame on us.”

Republicans have plenty of distractions they’ll need to overcome. The GOP is still reeling from the political fallout from the Jan. 6 riot that led to the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer. GOP leaders were also put in the unenviable spot of defending a new member, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), for her endorsement of racist screeds and calls for violence against prominent Democrats — a social media track record that prompted the House to strip Greene of her committee assignments.

“I would not trade places with them under any circumstances because right now, the Republican caucus has members that are either dangerous, delusional or divided,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.), who heads the Democrats’ campaign arm.

Those Republican divisions were on full display during a news conference last week, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters it absolutely was appropriate for Trump to speak at the nation’s most influential conservative gathering after his push to overturn the election results led to a violent insurrection.

Seconds later, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who voted to impeach Trump, stepped on McCarthy’s message by declaring that the 45th president should not be “playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”

That awkward moment perhaps best exemplified the battle playing out between the warring pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions of the Republican Party. Days later at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump flirted with a 2024 presidential bid and personally name-checked the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him and the seven GOP senators who voted to convict.

“Get rid of them all,” Trump said to the adoring crowd in Orlando.

Trump has been incensed with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted to acquit but also called Trump “morally responsible” for the attack. The two most powerful leaders in the Republican Party have exchanged bitter criticism as they both try to steer the GOP ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Trump and his allies are vowing to back primary challengers against what they see as disloyal anti-Trump Republicans, including Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Jamie Hererra Beutler (Wash.), David Valadao (Calif.), John Katko (N.Y.) and Fred Upton (Mich.). But Wagner, who fended off Democratic challenges the last two cycles in a district Trump narrowly won in 2020, said Republicans would be foolish to cannibalize some of the moderate incumbents who will be needed to take back the majority in next year’s midterms. 

“I don’t like the attacks on any colleagues by name. They are majority-makers, and this is about winning the majority in 2022, which is absolutely five or six votes within our grasp,” said Wagner.

Democrats are only happy to point out the brawling across the aisle — “I’d much rather be us than them,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) — but they have their own internal divisions to contend with.

Biden’s ascension to the White House has energized the party’s liberal base, which is clamoring for an aggressive progressive agenda like the $15 minimum wage. Yet it’s the moderate, swing-district Democrats who propelled the party to power in the House in 2018, and some of those lawmakers are advocating for party leaders to prioritize bipartisan legislation, which has a better chance to pass through the 50-50 Senate.

“There’s consensus amongst moderate Democrats like myself that we want to vote on pragmatic things that have a chance of becoming law in the Senate,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) said. “And that’s our priority.”

Luria had balked at language in the Democrats’ sweeping campaign reform bill that left vulnerable moderates like herself open to GOP attack ads suggesting Democrats were spending taxpayer dollars on their campaigns. Democratic leaders tweaked the language to win her vote when the package hits the floor on Wednesday. And similar negotiations may follow as Democrats pursue an ambitious legislative schedule in the coming weeks.

“I think the dynamics are different, and it’s still a question of trying to figure out those dynamics in a very slim majority,” Luria said, comparing the current Congress to the last.

Campaign finance is not the only issue in dispute. Liberals are up in arms that party leaders didn’t fight harder to challenge a recent ruling by the Senate parliamentarian, who determined that the $15 minimum wage bill could not move by special fast-track procedures. And many of those same progressives are furious with Biden’s recent airstrikes in Syria, which happened without congressional approval.

“This is clearly a violation of the U.S. Constitution and international law,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

Democrats are also contending with unexpected distractions early in the new Biden era. A third woman came forward this week accusing Cuomo, whom Democrats praised last year for his aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic in New York, of unwanted advances.

Pressed about Cuomo, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday that the allegations are “very serious” and said he was supportive of the independent investigation now underway. But he and other top Democrats have not joined Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) in calling for Cuomo to step down.

“The time has come. The Governor must resign,” Rice tweeted.

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