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Don't Expect Much From The 118th Congress And You Won't Be Disappointed


Once, briefly, a progressive, Ann Kuster is running to be chair of the New Dems now

Annie Kuster, who comes from an old political family— Republican— was first elected to Congress in 2012 from the bluer of New Hampshire’s two congressional districts. It was a rematch against Republican Charlie Bass and she won by a strong 5 points after being backed by national progressive groups— despite having been a PhRMA lobbyist. Blue America, ignoring that warning sign, was one of those groups backing her and helping her raise money. She seemed so nice when we spoke with her.


This month she breezed to reelection against a MAGA-sociopath, Robert Burns— 171,742 (55.9%) to 135,573 (44.1%) in a slightly redrawn district with a D+2 partisan lean (and a PVI of D+1 as well).


Right after her first election, she joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but— with the urging of Steny Hoyer— quickly quit and joined the corrupt Wall Street-owned New Dems. Now a New Dem vice president, she’s locked in a caucus battle for the chair with San Diego corporate conservative Scott Peters to replace Suzan DelBene as top dog. Since 2013 she’s created quite the voting record— a ProgressivePunch big fat “F.” There are only 30 Democrats in the House, including Peters, who have worse voting records than she does. And she had so much promise at one time!


Blue America raised small dollar contributions for her and we introduced her to some contributors who max out to progressive candidates. This is a typical e-mail exchange:



After that first election, though, Kuster and I didn’t have much contact. There were pleasantries like this when I warned all the progressive freshmen about the difference between Joe Crowley and Barbara Lee— then both running for Caucus Vice Chair, a stepping stone to the speakership:



Our last exchange ended badly. It’s my fault. She had started heading in a conservative direction and I was dismayed… and handled it badly. By the spring of 2013, just 3 months after her searing in, she was already sending out requests for money for the 2014 campaign. “We know the GOP is going to throw everything they’ve got at us,” read one of the e-mails. I took it as an opportunity to blow her off:


“Imagine that,” I wrote, “even though you’ve been supporting so much of their program, they’re still not going to back you. Funny how that works, isn’t it? I feel very let down by you and very sorry I ever urged other people to support you.” You're not supposed to talk to Members of Congress that way.



I found it sad that she used "Democratic leadership" (Hoyer I was told) as the excuse for her super-fast devolution from progressive to conservative. And, after all, we all expected her to have a mind of her own and think for herself, not just transmongrify into a careerist robot so quickly.


Since then, we’ve learned to identify her type before elections, one of the reasons why Blue America has endorsed so many fewer candidates for Congress this past cycle. One who we did endorse and who’s at freshman orientation right now, is former Austin city councilman, Greg Casar, who comes to the job with a stellar record of achievement for Austin's working families, rather than for big PhRMA. I have very high expectations that Casar will never go the way of Kuster; it’s not who he is. This morning, Border Report spoke with Casar about freshman orientation.


“Orientation started out like so many other jobs, you get your parking pass and are given your laptop,” Casar said. He and other new members posed for a group photo on the Capitol steps.
There was one moment in particular that Casar described as “incredibly powerful”: “I was on the House floor as Speaker Pelosi who has led the Democratic Party now for decades, gave her speech passing the torch along to new leadership.”
Following Speaker Pelosi’s announcement, Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (NY-8), announced his bid to be the new leader of the House Democrats. Casar said he supports Jefferies as a successor and spoke to him about addressing Texas’ issues in Congress.
“We talked about Texas, we talked about the fact that abortion rights have been stripped away here, we talked about the fact that we have less people insured with health insurance in Texas,” Casar said. “I had that conversation with him and really urged that we look at what’s happening in Texas as a crisis and that we need his support and the Congress to be focusing on those issues.”
Republicans will gain power, with the party’s narrow win of the House. That power shift will likely make it difficult for progressive Democrats like Casar to advance legislation. Compromise could be key to getting things done.
“I’m willing to negotiate and compromise to make progress. What I’m not willing to do is go backward,” Casar said. “I’m willing to negotiate on the budget…where I’m not willing to negotiate is on taking people’s civil rights away, on taking people’s voting rights away, on cutting Social Security.”
For Casar, the economy is one common ground where he believes democrats, republicans and independents can come together and make progress.
“What we need to do is talk about those economic issues,” Casar said. “We need to get to where we’re protecting social security, but also working to expand your wages, and aren’t just there to protect these big corporations.”
But Casar maintains that he will fight for progressive policies. Throughout his campaign, Casar focused on reproductive rights. Casar said it may take until after the 2024 elections before Democrats have hopes of codifying Roe v. Wade. Until then, the Congressman-elect says it’s necessary to explore other options to ensure abortion care.
“Over the course of the next few months, I’m going to continue to work alongside other members of Congress to work with the Biden administration to allow more abortion medication to be sent into the state of Texas,” Casar said. “If we can make it that that was easily mailed to you, then I think that’d be a good first step.”
The FDA approved access to abortion pills via mail in 2021. Texas passed SB 4 which made it illegal to get abortion pills in the mail.
As a way to jump over this hurdle, Casar suggests federal contributions.
“Looking at federal land and federal doctors would be a key way of achieving this,” Casar said. “We should absolutely be looking at ideas like using federal lands, or our VA hospitals or other places.”
Casar said it’s very important for members of Congress to stay in touch with the people they represent. That’s a challenge for him since his district stretches from eastern Travis County south along I-35 to San Antonio.
“’I’m going to be opening up two district offices one closer to the northern end, one closer to the southern end of this district,” Casar said. “If somebody’s having trouble… then I want to be their first phone call, somebody who cuts through the red tape.”


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