Can Pramila Turn The Congressional Progressive Caucus Into A Real Force To Be Reckoned With?

"Starting To Lose My Temper" by Nancy Ohanian

Some years ago, I was a member of the Progressive Caucus foundation's board. Once the CPC started recruiting anti-progressive New Dems, I stopped participating and eventually resigned. I've always contended that Pocan wanted them in the caucus so he could continue boasting that the CPC was the largest caucus in Congress (and to get their annual dues). Conservatives like Donald Norcross (New Dem-NJ), Gil Cisneros (New Dem-CA), Jimmy Panetta (New Dem-CA), Brendan Boyle (New Dem-PA), Angie Craig (New Dem-MN), Debbie Mucarsel Powell (New Dem-FL), Darren Soto (New Dem-FL), Juan Vargas (New Dem-CA), Don Beyer (New Dem-VA), Madeleine Dean (new Dem-PA), Brad Sherman (New Dem-CA), Joe Morelle (New Dem-NY), Tulsi Gabbard (God Knows What-HI), Lacy Clay (corruptionist-MO), Lisa Blunt Rochester (New Dem-DE), wanted to be in the caucus as some kind of bogus insurance policy against grassroots primaries. This past November, the voters in their districts did what the CPC should have-- kicked several out of Congress.

Last week, Joel Bliefuss, took a look at the new post-Pocan rules and how they will effect the CPC going forward. Many CPC supporters, myself included, are hoping the new rules will give Pramila Jayapal, now the chair, the tools she needs to forge the caucus into a real fighting force with actual clout. The addition of Marie Newman, Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones and Cori Bush will help.

"In Con­gress," wrote Bleifuss, "bipar­ti­san­ship does not serve the inter­ests of the major­i­ty of Democ­rats, espe­cial­ly those who suf­fer the effects of struc­tur­al racism and gen­er­a­tional pover­ty. Look no fur­ther than three “crown­ing” bipar­ti­san achieve­ments of the 1990s: the 1994 crime bill, the Wel­fare Reform Act of 1996 and the 1999 repeal of Glass-Stea­gall bank reg­u­la­tion. The lat­ter came home to roost in 2008, enabling the finan­cial cri­sis. The George W. Bush administration’s sub­se­quent $700 bil­lion bank bailout res­cued Wall Street but did noth­ing for the 10 mil­lion fam­i­lies who lost their homes. Fast for­ward 12 years and we are again head­ed toward eco­nom­ic cat­a­stro­phe. The Covid-19 pan­dem­ic and the expi­ra­tion of pan­dem­ic-relat­ed unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits will move 14 mil­lion Amer­i­cans one step clos­er to deep pover­ty and home­less­ness. This lev­el of eco­nom­ic des­ti­tu­tion has not been seen since the 1930s. One dif­fer­ence between the Covid-19 Reces­sion and the 2008 Great Reces­sion is that pro­gres­sives in Con­gress have since got­ten their act togeth­er. The CPC has restruc­tured itself (start­ing Jan­u­ary 3) into a dis­ci­plined, small‑d demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal oper­a­tion that will push pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion on the inside while help­ing raise a ruckus on the outside."

Here's where it gets interesting. Among the new rules:

  • One that requires mem­bers to vote as a bloc on issues sup­port­ed by two-thirds of the cau­cus.

  • Should a mem­ber fail to adhere to this rule at least 66% of the time, they could face expul­sion.

  • Mem­bers must attend CPC meet­ings and respond to requests from the cau­cus whip (cur­rent­ly Minnesota’s Rep. Ilhan Omar) about where they stand on issues.

More good news: "If some CPC mem­bers find the new rules unac­cept­able, no sweat. Jaya­pal made clear she 'would rather have peo­ple who are real­ly com­mit­ted to the Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus in the cau­cus and par­tic­i­pat­ing rather than sort of just hav­ing it as a label.'"

Bliefuss concluded that "Because the Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty in the House is so slim--  just 13 seats--  a unit­ed CPC could even extract the con­ces­sions from House lead­er­ship so des­per­ate­ly need­ed right now: evic­tion mora­to­ri­ums, stu­dent debt relief, unem­ploy­ment assistance. These types of poli­cies are anath­e­ma to par­ty cen­trists, who appar­ent­ly would rather cap­tain a sink­ing ship than sur­ren­der any con­trol to par­ti­sans in steer­age. But pro­vid­ing actu­al eco­nom­ic relief is essen­tial to pre­vent Demo­c­ra­t­ic loss­es in the midterms and 2024. Move­ment-backed Democ­rats must be dis­ci­plined and orga­nized in work­ing with the new pres­i­dent, who inher­its a crisis. Oth­er­wise, a ship­wreck is imminent."

In the election for Speaker today, Pelosi beat McCarthy 216-208. Although there were feints in that direction by AOC, Cori Bush and Barbara Lee, in the end no progressives voted against her. Two right-leaning Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party voted against her: Jared Golden (Blue Dog-ME) and Conor Lamb (PA). Blue Dogs Abigail Spanberger (VA) and Mike Sherrill (NJ) voted "Present," as did New Dem Elissa Slotkin (MI), the coward's way out.