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When House Democrats narrowly lost their majority in 2022, they did not expect to be the party that saved a Republican speaker from banishment.

But in the topsy-turvy world of today’s House, Democrats on Wednesday evening rode to the rescue of a conservative congressman turned speaker and cemented their status as co-rulers of a deeply dysfunctional lower chamber in the process.

In a House with a single-vote GOP majority, many argue that Democrats are no longer just the majority in waiting — they have already arrived. Lawmakers of both parties, including Republicans with a distinct bitterness, say that Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) does not sit atop just his party, but also the entire House.

“Even though we’re in the minority, we effectively have been governing as if we were in the majority because we continue to provide a majority of the votes necessary to get things done,” Jeffries recently told CBS’s “60 Minutes.” “Those are just the facts.”

Along with his leadership lieutenants — Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) — Democrats have helped Republicans by providing the margin of victory on critical votes. They argue that they have entered into deals with the majority to ensure the proper functioning of government, and to show that they are the adults in the room.

“I think today has proven the uniparty is alive and well, and the Democrats now control Speaker Johnson. That was something that everybody’s suspected all along. They just voted to save him,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said after her failed effort to oust Johnson.

Democrats’ latest flex — 163 of them opposed the move to topple Johnson — caps a long stream of cooperation with Johnson and many of their Republican colleagues to pass legislation with a more moderate bent than would otherwise be expected from a conservative majority.

Many members were impressed by the trust on display for Jeffries and his lieutenants during a recent caucus meeting in which Democrats discussed saving Johnson. Several Democrats stood up to express their hesitancy in keeping Johnson, who many decried as an election denier for his objections to the 2020 election. But they also understood how Jeffries arrived at the decision to help maintain order in a chaotic House.

“People trust them. They know that they won’t always agree with them, but they trust them, each one of them,” Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) said of the Democratic leadership trio. “You saw that with the motion to table. There was dissent, disagreement, but they trusted Hakeem.”

Right now, Democrats are leaning in to their unusual clout.

Since last May, they have helped two Republican speakers over 10 times to pass high-stakes legislation that prevented a debt ceiling catastrophe and multiple government shutdowns. They have also channeled $95 billion in aid to foreign allies including Ukraine; helped restructure a government surveillance mechanism; and surmounted floor blockades by hard-line Republicans in the name of maintaining regular order.

“While we are in the minority, we’re almost like a minority in name only because we’re putting up the majority of the votes,” liberal Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) said.

In more than two dozen interviews with lawmakers and staff across the ideological spectrum, Democrats said they have chosen to work with Republicans because they believe in governing. They contend that aiding Republicans in sending bills to President Biden doesn’t mean they are suddenly siding with the majority on all issues.

House Democrats’ navigation of the past several months provides a glimpse of how they would operate as a majority — with a new generation of leadership at the helm. While Democrats have appeared largely united, they have faced their own internal debates that were effectively smoothed over by leadership and avoided some feuds becoming personal.

It’s not entirely out of the question that Democrats could slip into the majority for periods of time right now.

In fact, it’s already happened twice when more Democrats were present and voting than Republicans on days where two-thirds of lawmakers were needed to pass noncontroversial bills. House Democratic leaders have discussed what they would do if such a scenario were to present itself again, denying that they would try to exploit their numbers to install Jeffries as speaker. Instead, Democrats would look to sink floor votes on partisan measures or motions to adjourn, according to people familiar with those conversations.

Their strength in numbers played out when the GOP’s first effort failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in February. Without telling Johnson about their internal whip count, Democratic leadership staff wheeled Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) onto the House floor in hospital scrubs days after he had surgery, making him the decisive vote that momentarily halted the effort to remove Mayorkas. Even Republicans lauded Democrats’ ability to ensure that all members were present and voting.

Republicans privately worry they may lose the majority in November, but Democrats are not yet measuring the drapes. They are fully aware of the small battlefield on which the fight for the House will play out, which has contributed to narrow majorities for both parties in recent elections.

Democrats are expected to release bills outlining their agenda ahead of the election in an effort to further contrast themselves with Republicans. Their agenda will largely include legislation Democrats passed through their narrow ranks the last time they controlled the House, like protecting voting access.

To ensure they can move their agenda if they do recapture control, Democrats have learned what not to do from Republicans. The House Rules Committee — which approves every bill before it is sent to the floor for a vote — would not be stacked with hard-liners who have recently begun bucking their party. Democrats would also raise the threshold for ousting a speaker from one member back to what it was under Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) when she was speaker: a simple majority of one party.

When it comes to policymaking, however, some lawmakers worry that Democrats aren’t engaged in more concrete conversations now to draft bills addressing some of the most divisive issues, including immigration reform.

Cooperation with the current Republican majority is not without its detractors. Thirty-two Democrats opposed and seven voted “present” on rescuing Johnson’s speakership, most from the liberal wing of the party.

Some liberals wish their leadership would recommend opposing GOP bills intended to divide Democrats ahead of the November elections, if only to send a message to voters about where the party stands.

“Democrats are always thinking about governing. Maybe sometimes we don’t think about messaging enough,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), an ally of leadership who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

But Democratic leaders have adopted a Pelosi-like approach, allowing swing-district members to vote their conscience on difficult votes. It’s a sentiment appreciated by moderate Democrats like Rep. Angie Craig (Minn.), who said that leadership knows “that I’m voting my district and they give me the space to do that.”

Clark, whom many describe as an empathetic whip who understands her colleagues well, explained that leadership understands “unity doesn’t mean unanimity” and that Democrats fundamentally want to unite.

“The one thing that I do believe we all have in common is a commitment to governing, to making things work. And we each go about it differently, but ultimately, we want to get things done,” Landsman said. “The second is that Hakeem, Katherine and Pete have built a lot of trust with folks. They have invested in relationships across the board, across the spectrum within the caucus.”

A new generation

Jeffries leads the majority in waiting and took the reins of his party only a year-and-a-half ago. Before that, he was Democratic caucus chair under Pelosi, who reigned with a notorious iron grip for two decades.

He earns plaudits for his style — collaborative with colleagues and his leadership team. He’s also very accessible; members remarked on how Jeffries, a big texter, is easily reachable. But embrace from his colleagues wasn’t always a given.

There was no guarantee that all 213 Democrats would back Jeffries during the first roll-call vote for leader in January 2023. Lawmakers and leadership aides held their breath and waited as those from the liberal “Squad” were called on to vote. All voted “aye” and have repeatedly done so since.

In his early days chairing the Democratic caucus, Jeffries rankled liberals who felt he wasn’t sympathetic to their point of view. In 2019, he got into a public spat with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, who criticized a moderate Democrat’s vote. Jeffries also established a political action committee to defend incumbents, which liberals considered an affront to their efforts to recruit members like them as challengers. Members of the “Squad,” many of whom impressively amass small dollar donations, withheld donations to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as result.

Fast-forward five years and Democrats were stunned to learn that Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) donated a whopping $260,000 to the DCCC for the first time last month. In a brief interview, Ocasio-Cortez said her donation was motivated in part to ensure that Democrats regain the majority and have a head start on “setting a strong and assertive agenda” on social policy issues.

“I think a generational shift is naturally going to reflect generational changes,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think we’re still figuring out what that means, but I certainly think that there’s a receptiveness and a certain, I think, embrace of the broader coalition that currently makes up the Democratic Party.”

Many Democrats considered the contribution a show of confidence in Jeffries. Those familiar with the minority leader’s thinking say that the best way to lead an ideologically diverse caucus is to ensure all of its blocs are heard.

Though Jeffries ultimately sets the Democratic agenda, he stresses that he is part of a leadership team. Members joke about “the triumvirate” including Clark and Aguilar, but many say it’s a welcome change from previous regimes.

“We’re stepping into very high stilettos. And none of us can wear those like the speaker emerita,” Clark said of Pelosi. “We knew that we had strengths in that we each have deep contacts in our caucus, and we each have strengths that we can help bolster with the other.”

Jeffries stays in touch with Democrats’ various ideological and other blocs; he and his team often meet with representatives of several groups to understand where disagreements lie.

When Jeffries heard that Congressional Hispanic Caucus members were upset over bipartisan border negotiations in the Senate late last year, for instance, he set up a meeting between frustrated lawmakers, Mayorkas and other administration officials.

No issue has been more contentious for House Democrats than Israel’s war in Gaza following the Oct. 7 invasion by Hamas. Initial reactions were tense, particularly in one closed-door caucus meeting in which two Jewish lawmakers called Democrats concerned about voting for a GOP resolution over Israel’s bombardment of civilians in Gaza “despicable.”

Jeffries held several roundtables with members from each side of the argument to better understand their positions and ultimately get them to find common ground. Some members have convened their own meetings to bridge divides, including at the House Democratic retreat earlier this year.

“We have to be able to create safe places to have difficult conversations and hear each other,” Rep. Bradley Schneider (D-Ill.) said.

Democratic leadership has reminded members, at times individually, to refrain from making attacks personal. And so far, lawmakers have been able to do so as they remain united against the GOP.

“It’s easy to be disciplined and against what Republicans are doing because it’s so egregious right now. That’s one of the things that’s binding us all together. But, you know, it gets hard in the majority,” Aguilar said.


Original story HERE.