Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are still reeling from disappointing November election results as they now attempt to figure out how they will legislate while the Senate majority remains unknown.
If Democrats win the Senate majority — depending on the outcome of January's runoffs in Georgia — there will be little negotiating needed with GOP congressmen in order to get legislation passed. But if the GOP maintains their majority -standing, then legislating in the House will become an interesting political arena – a game-changer that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D- N.Y., has already noted.
"The slimmer margin, it cuts both ways," Ocasio-Cortez told the conservative magazine, The Dispatch. "It’s tough because we have to make sure that we cobble together a winning majority, but also it’s solid because we’re able to push a little bit more."
The New York progressive, who’s come under fire from both sides of the aisle for her "radical" policies, highlighted the complex dynamics the House will face in 2021.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer will likely be taking a new approach to how they rally their votes after losing the advantage they had over House Republicans.
Though Democrats still hold the majority, they lost roughly 12 seats in the November general election – meaning Democrats currently hold the slimmest majority a party has seen in the House in decades.
Centrist Democrats pointed fingers at freshmen progressives like Ocasio-Cortez and "the Squad" — a group of four progressive Congresswomen including Representatives Ilhan Omar, Minn., Ayanna Pressley, Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, Mich., – for the loss in Democratic seats in the House.
"Do we want to win, do we want to govern, or do we want to be internet celebrities?" House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., asked during a private call with fellow caucus members, Politico first reported a week after Election Day.
"I think it’s a useful conversation for us to have because the socialism message wasn’t helpful," he added.
Ocasio-Cortez and other Congressional democrats fired back, alleging the reason Democrats lost seats was not because of "socialist" agendas, but because the Party ineffectively connected with voters and was unable to efficiently counter GOP attacks.
"For the Dems who think I’m just being a selfish, divisive bombthrower from a deep blue seat, maybe you’ll listen to Doug Jones in Alabama when he says the same thing," Ocasio-Cortez fired back on Twitter when Jones, considered a moderate candidate in the Democratic Party, lost re-election in the Alabama senate race.
But the question over how Pelosi and Democratic leadership will approach this term remains to be seen. Ocasio-Cortez and the "squad" have more power with a tighter House lead, for the simple reason that their votes are needed to get any Democratic agenda passed.
Any Democratic member and their allies would effectively control the floor from under Pelosi if they decide they do not approve of any legislation that compromises too much to the Republican minority – a problem that was exacerbated with President-elect Joe Biden’s recent cabinet choices that leave Democrats with 219 seat majority until special elections can be carried out.
Though Democratic House Whip Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina says the Biden White House will have to "just manage it" by staggering the confirmation hearings and cabinet appointments, in order to prevent leaving House Democratic leadership in a vulnerable position.
Pelosi will either have to wait to bring legislation to the floor unless every single Democratic vote is guaranteed to support the bill, or enough Republican members will need to cross party lines when it is time to vote. This means the House could be paralyzed on the legislation front or potentially see an increase in moderate measures being passed with bipartisan support.
"On any given vote when your margin is as narrow as this, a few people can be mad about something totally unrelated to the vote and just take it out on you," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said noting the difficult position Pelosi is in.
Though even with the narrow majority, the Speaker will most likely not run into too many immediate issues with getting legislation passed in the New Year, as Congress is set to vote on nine agendas largely supported by Democrats including background checks on guns, lowering prescription drugs, voting rights and raising the minimum wage.
Whether or not these issues will gain enough support in the Senate to make it to Biden’s desk will only become clearer following Georgia’s special election on Jan. 5, 2021.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.