Congressional Democrats returned to Washington in a defiant mood yesterday, making no apologies for the campaign in which they lost congressional seats and the presidential race and vowing to hold President Bush accountable for his handling of the deficit, the Iraq war and other issues.
In his first public comments since conceding defeat to Bush, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) did not rule out a bid in 2008 and promised to keep pushing the issues he championed this year.
"Let me tell you one thing that I want to make clear," Kerry said in a brief meeting with reporters in the Capitol. "Fifty-four-plus-million Americans voted for health care, they voted for energy independence, they voted for unity in America, they voted for stem cell research, they voted for protecting Social Security. We need to be unified, and we have a very clear agenda. And I'm going to be fighting for that agenda with all of the energy that I have and all the passion I brought to the campaign."
Asked about his brother Cameron's comment, published in yesterday's Boston Globe, that it was "conceivable" Kerry would run for president again, the senator quipped: "I was intrigued by it. I called him up and said, 'Where did you get that?' " He added: "It's inconceivable to me that anybody is even talking about that stuff right now."
Returning to the Capitol, where he will resume serving his fourth Senate term, Kerry met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who will succeed Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) as Senate minority leader.
Pelosi, addressing reporters after lunching with about 100 House Democrats, said her party will speak out when it believes Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress are mismanaging Iraq, tax policies or the deficit. "The president won't be able to blame anyone, because the Republicans have full control," Pelosi said. Although Republicans have controlled the White House, Senate and House for two years, she said, "the American people did not know that. And now they do."
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) rejected arguments that Republicans care more than Democrats do about traditional values. "We are the party of moral values," he said. Cutting taxes "for the very rich" increases the deficit and forces spending cuts in education, health care and housing, he said. "And so throughout the next two years, you're going to hear a lot [from Democrats] about moral values."
Meanwhile, the Democrats' post-election self-examination continued at a forum hosted by the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.
DLC founder Al From said the 2004 election continued a "40-year slide" for the party, interrupted only by the elections of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Democrats must close the security, reform and culture gaps, he said, adding: "You can't have everybody who goes to church voting Republican."
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who won reelection, said Democrats must trust voters' instincts and intelligence. "We can only lead people that we trust, and they'll only follow if they trust us," she said.
Some congressional Democrats also say the party needs to do more soul-searching, but most are lying low. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the party's second-ranking House leader, did not join Pelosi, Rangel and others who addressed reporters. Hoyer "wants to think things through" but will not challenge Pelosi or surrender his post as party whip, said a source close to him.
Pelosi must choose a successor to Rep. Robert T. Matsui (Calif.) as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Those interested include Reps. Mike Thompson (Calif.), Janice D. Schakowsy (Ill.) and Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), Capitol insiders said.