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Tales From The Sausage Factory: Ugly Corruption... Uglier Leadership Battles



There were two fascinating inside baseball stories that broke this morning, neither of which is likely to get much mainstream media play. Ryan Grim (who else?) broke the first story at The Intercept and the second one was a pretty anonymous Axios story about the impending battle for who might keep the Democrats' version of Kevin McCarthy from becoming the next speaker. I'll start with Grim's piece since it's more immediate.


First a little background: there are all kinds of miscreants-- including corrupt corporate shills and actual status quo-devoted conservatives-- in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a side effect of decisions to create an entity based on quantity over quality. Eventually, Mark Pocan turned the Caucus into a disgraceful joke by selling primary-insurance to New Dems. After he was shamed into resigned as co-chair, the Caucus passed new rules about ideological cohesion, rules that are yet to be tested.


On Tuesday, there was a Progressive Caucus meeting and one of the fake progressives had a public shit fit over anti-trust legislation that could harm her big donors. She wasn't kicked out of the caucus or even asked to reconsider her membership. The villain here is Pelosi ally Zoe Lofgren, who, like Pelosi, was once and idealistic liberal and has spent entirely too much time inside the Beltway and is now long overdue for a visit to the glue factory. Age 73, Lofgren was first elected to this solid blue district (PVI- D+23) in 1994, the same week Newt Gingrich took over the House and that Reagan announced he had Alzheimer's. It was just a few months after OJ's white Ford Bronco high-speed chase.


Despite her solid blue district, Lofgren has a ProgressivePunch crucial vote score of just 87.59 and a "B" grade. 17 California members have better voting records than she does. She isn't thinking about retiring and she doesn't have a Democratic primary challenger or a serious Republican challenger. In theory, she represents much of San Jose and it's southern and everything down to Morgan Hill and Gilroy. In reality, she exclusively represents the Silicon Valley Robber Barons, which is what led to the blowup on Tuesday.


Remember a few weeks ago when we talked a little about the big win for progressives in the anti-trust battle? All 6 bills that had been worked on for months passed the Judiciary Committee, the most bipartisan important legislation I've seen in years. The opposition was led by corrupt establishment Republicans (think McCarthy) + the corrupt, corporately-funded New Dems and some Big Tech-owned members, particularly Zoe Lofgren, Lou Correa and Eric Swalwell.


Grim wrote that Tuesday argument "began when Lofgren, one of the most senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and an opponent of the legislation, noted that she had raised an extraordinary amount of money from Silicon Valley companies over the years, but because she ran in a safe blue district, she hadn’t spent any of it on her own campaign since 1996 and instead distributed it widely to other campaigns. Raising corporate money and spreading it around the caucus is a common tactic deployed by members looking to grow their power. But it is highly unusual to talk openly about the practice on a legislative caucus call. 'It’s a pretty shocking thing to say,' one Democrat on the call said."


The debate devolved into unusually personal terms, sources present for the members-only call said. Lofgren argued that the legislation wasn’t just wrongheaded, but also poorly written-- considered a cardinal dig on Capitol Hill. Lofgren said that she hadn’t had enough time to review the legislation sufficiently and knocked the unnecessary dead-of-night committee votes, arguing that the approaches the bills take won’t accomplish what could be worthy goals, while doing collateral damage to the economy. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chair of the CPC, eventually cut Lofgren off, and noted that despite representing Seattle, the home of Amazon, she has been willing to take on Big Tech.
Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the lead author of much of the legislation, was blunt in his response to Lofgren. “Cicilline lost it,” said one Democrat on the call and, according to multiple sources, he accused Lofgren of merely parroting “industry talking points.”
“You may disagree with the bills, you may have other interests you’re trying to protect, but to suggest members of the subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee don’t understand them, with all due respect, is deeply offensive,” Cicilline said, according to multiple sources.
...That the arguments made by Lofgren against the legislation are the same as those made by Big Tech is not in dispute. But to question the motivation of those arguments, or the link between those positions and campaign funds, is considered wildly out of bounds on Capitol Hill-- something that is not to be spoken out loud. One member said Lofgren was offended enough that she was considering organizing a letter of complaint from the California delegation to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The second piece I promised is about dancing around the race for speaker. Is it going to be an ugly race between two careerist empty suits, Kevin McCarthy and his Democratic doppelgänger Hakeem Jeffries? God forbid, but smart money says it will be. Axios brought up Katherine Clark as a possible not-Hakeem entrant. One member who responded on condition of anonymity-- no one else was willing to even do that-- said that from a progressive perspective, "Clark would probably be slightly better than Jeffries. I have a hard time imagining her in the role. She's too friendly. You need to sometimes put the hammer down to be Speaker effectively I think. Paul Ryan was also too nice-- to his own caucus anyway-- and he was feckless as Speaker." And short-lived.

The Axios report also noted Clark's "career-long habit of making friends" and credits that with why she's in contention. I'd point out that among her roommates and "best friends" are some of the worst and most useless Democrats in Congress, so horrible, in fact, that it makes one wonder about her judgment: Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL), Ann Kuster (New Dem-NH), Julia Bownley (New Dem-CA)... Debbie Wasserman Schultz seems to be missing. These are women who are personifications of the wrong side of what Alan Grayson said the other day: "We want to elect people who don't just want to BE something; we want to elect people who want to DO something." And they are personifications of what Bryan Osorio said the same evening: "Too many leaders are more interested in keeping power than doing something with it." Axios made the point that "Clark has built up a pile of chits in just under eight years in Congress, rising to assistant speaker-- her party's fourth highest-ranking slot in the House, and just one notch ahead of Jeffries. Bonds she's made helping freshmen members settle into their new jobs have not only given her a network of friends and supporters but loyalists she can tap in a speakership battle.


I don't know that there's any empirical value to any of this but her case is that she "has a 'shine-theory' leadership mentality: investing in members so they may succeed and then, as a result, allow the entire Democratic caucus to 'shine.' As assistant speaker, she holds monthly dinners for freshmen members. Her team meets with chiefs of staff on a regular basis to ensure all teams’ needs are met. And recently, they started a weekly newsletter to highlight the successes and innovations of different members of Congress. She describes her leadership style as one predicated on listening and building consensus. While men or senior members of Congress may possess some of those qualities, Clark thinks it’s a largely stereotypically feminine approach. 'I think people are sometimes taken aback by the success of that model,' she said. On any given day, Clark is juggling several group chat threads that range from all-female groups, a thread for the building she lives in (which she says has around 40 members of Congress), as well as a sub-group featuring just the women in that building."


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