Dem caucus erupts as members say party's leftward drift hurt moderates in election

'We should have won big but you know the defund the police issue, the Green New Deal -- those issues killed our members,' a source said

Democratic members of Congress sounded the alarm during a caucus call on Thursday, arguing that progressive policy ideas like "defund the police" and the Green New Deal were detrimental to their performance in elections.

A Democratic source told Fox News that members on the call complained that progressive rallying cries cost moderates their seats. “There's absolutely no accountability from the speaker," one frustrated Democrat said.

"We should have won big but you know the defund the police issue, the Green New Deal -- those issues killed our members. Having everybody walk the plank on qualified immunity with the cops. That just hurt a lot of members. No one's taking responsibility for it.”

The 2 p.m. ET call was the first time the caucus had all spoken since the election.

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Fox News is told by a source on the call that Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., Marc Veasey, D-Texas, Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, and others complained about calls by colleagues in recent months to defund the police, and about more liberal members embracing socialism.

Spanberger was particularly animated and yelled during the call, Fox News has confirmed. She told her colleagues: “We lost races we shouldn’t have lost. Defund the police almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t say socialism ever again. We need to get back to basics.” 

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said if “we are going to run on Medicare for All, defund the police, socialized medicine, we're not going to win," his office confirmed.

In a statement to Fox News, Clyburn said: "My comments on today’s private Caucus call are the same sentiments I have expressed for years and publicly reiterated earlier this year. Sloganeering, 'Burn baby burn,' highjacked the movement John Lewis and I helped lead in the 1960s, and slogans like 'Defund the police' could do the same to today's efforts, socially and politically."

Spanberger's office did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.

According to The Washington Post, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., disagreed with Spanberger, who said the party would encounter losses in 2022 if it didn't make adjustments.

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“This has been a life-or-death fight for their very fate of our democracy," Pelosi said. "We did not win every battle but we did win the war. Every one of you knows that incumbent protection is my number one priority."

During the call, Pelosi was confident in a victory for former Vice President Joe Biden, adding that she was focused on pursuing "even the slimmest path to victory in our outstanding races and ensure Members and candidates have the resources they need to win as votes continue to be counted.”

Meanwhile, Pelosi's majority has shrunk in House, a shock to Democrats and pollsters who were projecting the California Democrat would expand her caucus after Tuesday's election. Democrats were optimistic they could flip roughly 10 seats but their expansion efforts came up short, especially in Texas, and they ended up losing seats in Flordia, South Carolina, Minnesota and elsewhere.

As of 3 p.m. on Thursday, Democrats have won 208 seats compared to Republicans' 190. Another 37 races have yet to be called. Outstanding races are in New York, California, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. When all those votes are counted, Republicans are optimistic their numbers could swell to 208 and beyond, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). What's known is that Republicans have flipped at least seven seats from blue to red and an eighth seat in Michigan that was most recently occupied by a Libertarian.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said she and others were "furious."

"I also want to say the thing we’re all feeling: I’m furious," she said. "Something went wrong here across the entire political world. Our polls, Senate polls, governor polls, presidential polls, Republican polls, public polls, turnout modeling, and prognosticators all pointed to one political environment – that environment never materialized," Bustos said. "In fact, the voters who turned out look a lot more like 2016 than to what was projected. I want answers, and my team is already planning how we go and get those answers. I look forward to talking them through with you."

The call, which ended close to 5 p.m. ET, underscored tension that had already spilled onto Twitter where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., perhaps the most prominent progressive leader in the House, criticized former Sen. Claire McCaskill for urging the party to moderate.

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"Whether you are talking guns or issues surrounding the right to abortion in this country, or things like gay marriage and rights for transexuals and other people, who we as a party 'look after' and make sure they are treated fairly," McCaskill said on MSNBC.

"As we circled the issues we left voters behind and Republicans dove in,” she added.

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Ocasio-Cortez responded, noting that McCaskill lost her seat to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., in 2018.

"Why do we listen to people who lost elections as if they are experts in winning elections?" she asked. "McCaskill tried her approach. She ran as a caravan-hysteria Dem & lost while grassroots organizers won progressive measures in MO. Her language here shows how she took her base for granted."

Fox News' Brian Flood contributed to this report.

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