WASHINGTON ― After Joe Biden’s big night on Super Tuesday ― and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ less-than-expected performance in the multiple Democratic presidential primaries ― some House Democrats were high-fiving each other Wednesday. Literally.
Rep. Juan Vargas of California, a Biden supporter and frequent critic of Sanders, told reporters that he and some of his colleagues were reveling in the Vermont senator’s struggles.
“People were very happy,” Vargas said. “There was a huge sigh of relief.”
He added that the sense among some House Democrats was that the party had “come to our senses, you know? We’re not going to implode.”
“We were all high-fiving,” as Biden ended up winning 10 of Tuesday’s 14 primaries ― an almost unimaginable outcome just a few days ago. “We’re all happy. Everyone’s excited today. It was a good night last night,” he said.
Vargas estimated that he had talked with at least 30 House Democrats, and all but four were happy that Biden ― and not Sanders ― had the strong showing on Super Tuesday.
“Thank God it’s not Bernie,” said Vargas, first elected to his House seat in 2012. “We just dodged a bullet ― a Bernie bullet.”
Vargas, whose district encompassed all of California’s border with Mexico, was the most vocal member taking a victory lap Wednesday. Several other Democrats were more muted, perhaps sensing how touchy the subject of Sanders’ sudden struggles, given the enthusiasm he sparks among many of his supporters.
Still, the sense of relief among the more moderate Democratic lawmakers was clear.
Rep. Jim Costa of California told Politico Wednesday that a lot of his House colleagues now believe they’ve got a “standard-bearer who can not only win in November, but protect our majority in the House and give us an opportunity to win the Senate.”
A potentially vulnerable House Democrat who would only speak on background told a small group of reporters that Democrats in tough districts have a “little bounce in our step” after Biden seized the frontrunner status from Sanders.
“We went into last night thinking it was gonna be a tough night, and came out on cloud nine,” this member said.
House Democratic leaders have generally tried to remain neutral as the primary race has proceeded. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on Wednesday refused to give much of a reaction to Biden’s strong showing, opting instead to once again say that Democrats would “madly embrace” whoever becomes the nominee. The No. 2 House Democrat, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, has also refused to endorse a candidate at this point in the cycle.
But Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina publicly endorsed Biden just before his state’s primary last Saturday, supporter, and his move has been widely credited with fueling the former vice president’s big win in that vote ― which in turn helped Biden’s Tuesday triumphs.
Clyburn has said he thinks Sanders as the party’s nominee would cause “downballot carnage” for House Democrats. And the No. 5 House Democrat, caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, seemed to join those taking some joy in Biden’s victories on Wednesday. Jeffries said Biden had delivered “an old-fashioned beat down to the hard left.”
Vargas’celebration remained the most unabashed.
“We don’t think we can win with Bernie,” he said. “We think Bernie is a disaster ― I certainly think he’s a disaster all the way down” the ballot.
“I think if we got away with him just losing 25 seats, we’d be very happy,” Vargas said of the losses he anticipated in the House if Bernie were the nominee. “I bet you he’d lose 50 seats.”
Of course, all of this is conjecture. But to support his view, Vargas said that Sanders’ big argument for his candidacy was that he would grow the Democratic base ― and “it hasn’t happened. Period.”