As Pelosi’s Majority Thins, House Democrats Are in a Tight Spot

Democratic leaders are confident they will still have unified support in their caucus — no matter its size — to pass a series of carefully negotiated, bread-and-butter bills on good governance, prescription drug pricing, universal background checks for gun purchases, voting rights, and new protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“We did a lot of work in the last Congress to learn about these bills, to socialize them, to talk to our constituents, and we have all taken votes on these bills,” said Representative Katie Porter of California, an outspoken progressive who just won a second term in a traditionally conservative-leaning Orange County district. “That makes it a lot easier to move these bills in the next Congress.”

That may be true, but most of them were written with little hope of gaining Republican support or becoming law. If Democrats want to make law next year on issues of possible consensus like infrastructure, prescription drug pricing or criminal justice reform, they will need to incorporate input from a Democratic White House with its own preferences and from Republicans whose support in the Senate would be crucial to any legislative accomplishment.

Things could quickly get messy. Complex bills require a careful balance of interests and compromises, and any change threatens to upend it, reigniting fights among Democrats.

And the situation in the Senate, where Democrats will have at best a one-vote majority and a supermajority of 60 votes is required to advance most major legislation, makes things even trickier. But while control of the Senate will not be decided until after a pair of January runoff elections in Georgia, the party’s competing power centers in the House are positioning themselves to wield maximum power whatever the outcome.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, the group of nearly 100 of the House’s most liberal members, recently adopted rules to try to centralize its operations around a single leader to wield more influence within the Democratic ranks. Though its members reject the comparison to the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, which banded together when Republicans had the majority to hold hostage major bills, the changes raise the possibility that what had been a relatively amorphous group of like-minded legislators could become a more disciplined voting bloc.