“The Squad” always expected to expand their ranks on Tuesday. What few Democrats predicted, though, was that their House caucus would actually lose seats overall, as appears to be the case with a few swing district incumbents trailing their Republican challengers.
House progressives are in a period of flux. The arrival of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley gave the left a stronger voice than it’s had in decades, but their numbers were modest, even including a few reliable allies. When the rubber hit the road, Speaker Nancy Pelosi could do without their votes – a fact she rarely shied from discussing in public.
But on Tuesday, that dynamic might’ve begun to change.
New York’s Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones, Missouri’s Cori Bush, and Marie Newman in Illinois all look to have stamped their tickets to Capitol Hill, replacing either incumbent or retiring moderate and conservative Democrats. Meanwhile, a handful of moderate Democrats are on pace to either be unseated by Republican challengers or fell short in their own.
The likely result: a bigger “squad” in a slightly smaller Democratic caucus. And with it, more leverage as the next Congress begins.
“It’s been just over a year since Nancy Pelosi dismissed the squad as four people without any following. Not only did they almost double in size, but they and their allies now have a much greater bloc of the Dem Caucus,” said progressive strategist Rebecca Katz. ”It shouldn’t have taken disastrous election results for Pelosi to understand her plan was flawed, but here we are. Still pretty clear she doesn’t get it.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus had already taken steps to sharpen its posture, and potentially apply some new litmus tests for membership, before the election. But whether the caucus can marshal its members and their votes – or at least apply credible pressure to leadership – when trying to push or scuttle a piece of legislation, remains to be seen.
For now, the idea of a group defection – in the way the right-wing Freedom Caucus broke off from the conservative Republican Study Committee – doesn’t appear to be in the cards. But that can change. The Democratic majority, likely diminished but surely intact, will have difficult decisions to make as soon as they're sworn-in -- especially if Republicans keep hold of the Senate and there are negotiations on what will be a deeply unsatisfying compromise pandemic relief package.
Justice Democrats communications director Waleed Shahid didn’t shy away from the stakes.
“A progressive voting bloc and moving as a cohesive caucus is going to be more important than ever before,” he said.