Moving on from midterm losses, what’s next for Democratic leadership?

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of Democratic National Committee, says that American voters support Democrats on the issues, even if their candidates didn’t fare well in the midterm elections. As Congress gathers to begin the lame duck session, Gwen Ifill speaks with the congresswoman about the party’s assessment of election and plans for the future.

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    Congress reopened for business today, a week after midterm elections saw Republicans retake control of the Senate and beef up their margin in the House. They began sizing up their new territory, even as the lame-duck session got under way.

    Senate Republican freshmen were all smiles as they surrounded future majority leader Mitch McConnell this morning.

    SEN.-ELECT DAN SULLIVAN, (R) Alaska: Everybody knows.


    And in Alaska, Dan Sullivan gave them a 53rd seat, when he officially defeated Democratic incumbent Mark Begich.

    This afternoon, Senate leaders on both sides promised cooperation.

  • SEN. HARRY REID, Majority Leader:

    Regardless of how you interpret last week's election results, it is clear that that the American people want us to join together to get things done for the middle class and all Americans.

    SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) Texas: Hopefully, slowly, but surely, we can begin to rebuild not only trust and confidence within ourselves and this institution, but regain the lost trust of the American people.


    Those pledges will likely be put to the test almost immediately on the long-delayed Keystone X.L. pipeline project.

    Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu called today for a vote Thursday. She faces Republican Bill Cassidy in a runoff next month. Other items on the lame-duck Congress' agenda include a short-term spending bill to fund the government, possible passage of international trade agreements, and advancing presidential nominations for judgeships and other offices.

    And overshadowing everything else, immigration reform. President Obama has promised executive action by year's end, even as Republicans warn it could poison the well.

    Incoming House members started member-elect registration today outside a D.C. hotel, luggage in tow.

    Republican Cresent Hardy will represent Nevada's Fourth Congressional District.

    REP.-ELECT CRESENT HARDY, (R) Nevada: Got here last night and woke up this morning and got cameras in my face.


  • MAN:

    Welcome to Washington.


    The representative-elect from Michigan's 14th District, Democrat Brenda Lawrence, said the key is to stay focused.

    REP.-ELECT BRENDA LAWRENCE, (D) Michigan: Not get lost in the debate, but to really engage to get the job done.


    The new Congress convenes in January.

    As Republicans prepare to become the majority party in the Senate, the Democratic Party reflects on what went wrong during this year's election and what comes next.

    Joining me is Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

    Thank you for joining us.

    REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, (D) Florida: Thanks, Gwen.


    Nancy Pelosi said in an interview today that this was not a GOP wave, but an ebb tide for the Democrats. Which is worse?


    Well, what we are doing is looking beyond just this one election.

    What we felt last — and certainly Tuesday was a tough night for Democrats. But, you know, if you look at 2010 and the 2014 midterm elections, clearly, we know the voters support our agenda, that they consistently last Tuesday voted to increase the minimum wage, voted in a gun safety statewide initiative.

    They — that they defeated personhood amendments. But what we seem to be having a problem with is a disconnect between voters who support our agenda and our presidential candidates and then aren't going to the polls and voting in midterm elections. And we have two electorates that it appears are shaking themselves out.

    And we need to take a deep-dive look. And that is why I'm going to appoint a committee in the next few days to really take a deep-dive assessment of the multifaceted issues that have resulted in our not being able to have success in midterm elections recently.


    Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, came on our program the day after the election last week and said he believes he has a mandate.



    Well, ask John Cornyn, the number two in the United States on the Republican side, whether he agrees with his own party chairman, because he very clearly said right before the election that Republicans shouldn't feel like a victory was an embrace by the American people of their agenda.

    All across the country, the Republicans lost based on their position on the issues. Five states voted to increase the minimum wage. The Republicans opposed that. Two states defeated personhood amendments, South Dakota being one of them. Republicans support that. Gun safety is a very important issue for Democrats. Republicans oppose it.


    But you said now and before that you are right on the issues, but it's not translating. What is not translating? What are Democrats doing wrong?


    Well, that's exactly why we need to take a good, hard look at what are the structural deficits that we have, where we have an electorate that goes in a presidential election and votes for our presidential candidate, embraces our party's agenda and our message, and then two years later doesn't feel motivated to go to the polls and support candidates that are going to help implement that agenda?

    They are supporting us on the issues. They're just not — there is a disconnect on them actually getting out and voting for our candidates in midterms. And we have got to take a really deep dive on what the problem is.


    Well, what do you do — well, how do you do that with a leadership that seems a little hollowed out right now? Your — the leaders of your party are — or many of them are in their 70s. You have got the president who is about to leave office. You — some of your most promising young stars or younger stars, Michelle Nunn and Wendy Davis, went down to pretty ignominious defeat.

    Who do you have who is going to step up? And you have lost control of governor's houses, state legislatures. What is the future for the Democratic Party leadership?


    Oh, we have a bright future for our Democratic Party leadership.

    We have — and let's remember, while we didn't have the success that we wanted last Tuesday or in 2010, for that matter, we all — we did improve our standing on the targeted groups of voters that are really the ones that make a difference in elections.

    Women, where there was no gender gap at all in 2010, we got 52 percent of the vote among women, 62 percent of the vote among Hispanics. You — the young people turned out that actually voted for our candidates. And the list goes on.

    But what the Democratic Party is going to do now is, when I appoint this committee, we're going to have a top-to-bottom review with stake — key party stakeholders, experts, operatives. And we're reaching out, Gwen, all across the country to our supporters and asking them for their feedback, because we want to make sure that this is a comprehensive review, so that we can really have it be instructive on what we need to change in order to make sure that we can get our folks out to the polls who support our presidential candidates in midterm elections.

    And we have got to have an honest assessment. I want to make sure we are clear-eyed about this and we're not going to leave anything off the table. The committee is going to have a broad mandate.


    If you have an honest assessment, will you have the assessment completed and executed in time for the 2016 race, or have you left your candidates, your potential candidates for the presidency at a disadvantage?


    Oh, not at all.

    We're going to — this committee is going to be charged to meet and do this assessment intensely and comprehensively. And they will report back to us at our winter meeting at the beginning of February. So this is going to rapid.


    Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, thank you very much.


    Thank you, Gwen.

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