Pence warns conservatives: Pelosi and 'motivated' Democrats could take back Congress

Key Points
  • Vice President Mike Pence says "motivated" Democrats could take back Congress in November.
  • He says it would be a "disaster" if House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi became speaker again.
  • Pence promotes the GOP tax law and other policies he deems President Donald Trump's successes.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Maryland on February 22, 2018.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence warned conservatives Thursday that a "motivated" Democratic Party sees a chance to win congressional majorities in November and reverse President Donald Trump's policies.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Republican vice president promoted what he deemed the White House's accomplishments: the GOP tax law, a coming boost to military funding and increased economic optimism. He slammed frequent a conservative target — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — adding to recent GOP criticism of her stance on the tax plan Republicans passed.

"It would be a disaster for our cause if Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House again. But we're not going to let it happen. This movement should know it's a very real threat. ... They're doing everything they can to try to win back the Congress next November," Pence said.

Democrats aim to leverage Trump's low approval ratings and recent successes in state and national special elections to win majorities in the House or Senate. The party has seen an influx of candidates and small-dollar donor enthusiasm ahead of November's elections.

Democrats have led in nearly all recent polls asking voters if they would prefer a generic Republican or Democratic candidate. Republicans gained some traction as public opinion of the tax plan improved. Democrats currently have an estimated 9 percentage-point edge on the generic ballot, according to a FiveThirtyEight reading of recent polls.

Pence warned conservatives of a "mobilized" Democratic Party set on winning seats in Congress. He said Republicans "threw out the playbook" to win the presidential election in 2016, and will do so again to hold on to control of Congress this year.

Promoting the tax law is a major part of the Republican midterm strategy. The GOP permanently slashed tax rates for corporations and temporarily lowered rates for individuals. Democrats have argued the law favors corporations over individuals, and will lead to more stock buybacks than raises for workers.

Since the bill passed in December, Republicans repeatedly touted businesses announcing one-time bonuses, pay raises or investments as a result of tax cuts. Some of those companies have quietly closed stores or cut jobs at the same time.

Pence, like other Republicans, targeted Pelosi for calling $1,000 bonuses given to employees after the bill's passage "crumbs."

"Any leader that says $1,000 in the pockets of working families is crumbs is out of touch with the American people," the vice president said.

Pence contended Democrats "nearly ran America into the ground" the last time they controlled Congress. Republicans have held majorities in both chambers since 2015.

Dueling strategies

Leading Democrats, for their part, have stressed that their party's candidates need to do more than criticize Trump.

"You cannot just run against Donald Trump," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this month. "And it is the job of we Democrats to put together a strong, cohesive, economic group of proposals aimed at the middle class and those struggling to get there."

Schumer said Democrats need to promote policies such as cutting the cost of student loans, increasing access to rural broadband and boosting the availability of child care. The party has also criticized broadly unpopular Republican plans to roll back the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats need to win 24 seats nationwide to take a House majority. That goal became slightly easier Monday, when Pennsylvania's Supreme Court unveiled a new congressional map that changed boundaries drawn by and tilted toward Republicans.

The minority party will have a much tougher time winning the Senate in 2018. While the GOP holds only 51 of 100 seats currently, Democrats or independents who vote with them are defending 26 of the 34 seats up for grabs.