Why Are There Still Conservatives In The Congressional Progressive Caucus?
On Wednesday evening, Marianne Williamson will host a free public virtual candidate summit that includes 15 progressive candidates, mostly for House seats. 11 of the 15 are running for blue seats currently held by Democratic incumbents:
TX-30- Jessica Mason vs Eddie Bernice Johnson (C)
TX-18- Charles Thompson vs Sheila Jackson Lee (C)
WA-02- Jason Call vs Rick Larsen (F)
CA-30- Shervin Aazami vs Brad Sherman (D)
CA-39- Angelica Duenas vs Tony Cardenas (F)
CA-28- Maebe A Girl vs Adam Schiff (D)
FL-24- Christine Olivo vs Frederica Wilson (B)
MD-05- McKayla Wilkes vs Steny Hoyer (F)
VA-11- Ally Dalsimer vs Gerry Connolly (F)
PA-03- Alexandra Hunt vs Dwight Evans (B)
US Senate, Mayland- Colin Byrd vs Chris Van Hollen (A)
The incumbents whose names are bolded are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The grade next to each incumbent's name is their ProgressivePunch score. I spoke with the 2 Texans who will be speaking at Marianne's event Wednesday, Charles Thompson, who is taking on Sheila Jackson Lee in Houston and Jessica Mason, who is running for the seat occupied by Eddie Bernice Johnson in Dallas. Jessica told me that "After 28 years in office, EBJ has sponsored five bills that have become law; three bills were for renaming federal buildings. The neighborhood I grew up in looks no better than it did 28 years ago. In some areas, it’s worse. People in my district are more likely to die early and become incarcerated than anywhere else in Texas. This is the stark reality of what decades of systemic inequities can collectively create. We need change. We need it now.' Charles, a public school teacher and community advocate has a similar perspective: "In addition to having members with ProgressivePunch scores of D or F. I find it deeply concerning that members such as Sheila Jackson Lee, who is one of the Vice Chairs of the Progressive Caucus, has received a ProgressivePunch score of C. This is another example of an establishment member of the party, who has long ties with corporate donors (Goldman Sachs, Chevron, BP, etc.) and has been virtually silent on all major progressive policies, buying their way into the Progressive Caucus to avoid major opposition in the primaries. Now more than ever, we need more true progressives in office who will help not only advance important legislation such as, Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal, but to actively engage their constituents in regards to these important policies. As an educator, I tell my students all the time, 'you can do better than a C.' Now, I am telling the voters of the 18th the same. We can do better than a C. We deserve better."
Jason Call is running for a seat being wasted by 10 term incumbent Rick Larson, one of the F-rated conservaDems on the list. He has been telling WA-02 voters that Larsen "is a member of the New Democrats, the self-described corporatist coalition of the party. Prior to this cycle, he has not once ever described himself as progressive, but because of our challenge he is now cynically attempting to deceive voters. The truth is he’s been in the pockets of the war machine, the fossil fuel industry, and the transportation industry his entire career. Over 51% of his funding comes from corporate PACs, and less than 6% from small donors, yet he messages that he is 'grassroots' funded. He has broken with the majority of Democrats numerous times on legislation that would benefit the average American. Of all House Democrats elected in 2000, he’s had the least floor speaking time, he’s in the bottom quartile of House Dems for getting legislation cosponsored and passed; he hasn’t passed a bill since 2013, and in the last session didn’t get a single bill out of committee. He’s a verifiably bad legislator who has stated multiple times that he won’t support Medicare-For-All or the Green New Deal. Washington’s 2nd District is a progressive district, and it’s way past time they were represented someone who is #ActuallyProgressive. The goods on just how bad Larsen is are outlined in detail at www.callforcongress.com/larsen."
Defeating a Democratic incumbent in a primary is one of the most difficult tasks in electoral politics. AOC, Marie Newman, Matt Cartwright, Donna Edwards, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman had clearcut villains to run against. Ro Khanna and Ayanna Pressley ran against stalwart progressives and won anyway. Candidates need to establish themselves in a way seen as heroic to voters and paint their opponents as villains.
This morning, writing for The Hill, Scott Wong and Cristina Marcos asserted that though progressives are "ascendant," they may not have the political leverage to shape the Democrats' legislative priorities. Wong and Marcos blame it on the slim majorities in each chamber that means even one conservative in the Senate and just 2 or 3 in the House, spells doom for any progressive legislation. And while that, wrote the 2 reporters, "means only a handful of Democrats can hold up a bill, it also means that they will all be under more pressure than ever to stick together."
Right at the moment battle-lines are drawn over taxes to pay for the infrastructure bill. Conservative Democrats, like Republicans, want to protect their corporate paymasters by keeping corporate taxes unrealistically low and keeping a regressive tax system in place that burdens working families. Liberals are demanding a progressive tax system that shifts the burden onto the wealthiest Americans (who are the ones with the most political clout).
Wong and Marcos parroted the standard Democratic Party leadership excuse for self-serving incrementalist policies: "So far, centrists like Manchin have had outsized influence in demanding changes to bills when Democrats can’t afford more than a couple defections across both chambers. Democratic leaders, mindful of protecting the swing-district centrists essential to keeping their majority in 2022, have limited the ability to allow legislation to veer too far to the left."
But since Democrats took back control of the House in 2018, the 92-member Progressive Caucus, led by Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), has not been following in the mold of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. That far-right group was notorious for banding together to derail spending bills and even a GOP measure to repeal ObamaCare while Republicans led the chamber.
In fact, House Democrats passed most of their agenda last year with relatively few defections, despite having a much larger majority.
When Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) brought a $1.5 trillion infrastructure and climate change package to the floor last year, only two centrist Democrats-- Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Ben McAdams of Utah-- broke with their party and voted "no." Both lost reelection last fall.
And when House Democrats passed the final COVID-19 relief package last month that had been amended by Senate moderates, for all the griping from progressives like Rep. AOC (D-NY) about the changes, they only had one defection: centrist Rep. Jared Golden of Maine [NOTE: Golden isn't remotely "centrist," but the kind of conservative, reactionary Blue Dog that is commonly called a "centrist" or a "moderate" by corporate media with a status quo, establishment agenda of its own. I doubt wither Wong or Marcos even understands their role in that.]
Asked why progressives have not flexed their political muscle more and threatened to kill Democratic bills to get more of their priorities, one progressive House aide replied: “Democrats believe in government. What’s the cost benefit” of blowing up a bill? “What’s the alternative?”
The Progressive Caucus had a similar number of members last year. But between the slimmer House majority and progressives replacing longtime incumbents like former Reps. Eliot Engel (NY), Lacy Clay (MO) and Nita Lowey (NY), they are a potent force in the caucus.
Despite his reputation as a deal-cutting centrist, Biden’s proposals so far have been decidedly progressive; some Democrats and pundits are calling Biden’s agenda a “New New Deal,” inviting comparisons to former President Franklin Roosevelt. The American Rescue Plan that Biden signed into law injected nearly $2 trillion into the economy to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic and for emergency aid. Now his American Jobs Plan calls for a mammoth $2.25 trillion investment in things like transportation infrastructure, technology and the care economy, which includes child care and elder care.
While they may want to make tweaks around the edges, progressives don’t want to slow that massive government spending from getting out the door to their constituents and communities.
“We’re talking about a bill that makes historic investments in the care industry-- that’s progressive gold!” the progressive aide said. “This is an industry that has been so long ignored and undervalued. Progressives are interested in the ability to change the paradigm in how we view care, not to mention climate investment.”
The Progressive Caucus on Friday outlined five priorities for the infrastructure debate: establishing universal access to child care as well as paid family and medical leave; investments in public housing and renewable energy; lowering drug prices; and outlining a pathway to citizenship for certain immigrants.
“These priorities will strengthen this critical bill and fulfill our promises to the American people. It’s time to go big and it’s time to go bold, and enact these as part of a single, ambitious package,” Jayapal said in a statement.
But notably, the Progressive Caucus didn’t draw any red lines in contrast to three House Democrats from high-tax blue states-- Reps. Josh Gottheimer (Blue Dog-NJ), Tom Suozzi (NY) and Bill Passcrell (NJ)-- who vowed to oppose any changes to the tax code unless the $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions enacted as part of the 2017 tax law is repealed.
They went as far as declaring: “No SALT, no deal.”
While progressives aren’t going as far at this initial stage of talks, they’re nevertheless asserting themselves as a critical part of any coalition for an infrastructure package that they want to be as liberal as possible.
“Progressives are digging in and will not fold,” said one progressive lawmaker.
That would be a first. One of the problems with the Progressive Caucus is that not all of them are progressives. A former co-chair, Mark Pocan, allowed any conservative who was looking or primary insurance to "buy" their way into the CPC. Currently there are a dozen members of the caucus with ProgressivePunch scores of D or F, including New Dem corporate whores Donald Norcross (NJ), Jimmy Panetta (CA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE), Joseph Morelle (NY) and Juan Vargas (CA). What are they do in the Progressive Caucus? Why are there any members of the Progressive Caucus who aren't fighting for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal?
Christine Olivo, a southeast Florida progressive community activist is taking on do-nothing incumbent Frederica Wilson. "My opponent," she told me, "may have a B rating with ProgressivePunch, but she is also the 17th most absent Representative out of all 435. As you scroll through the years, you will notice the word 'absent' scattered throughout her record. One can be the most progressive Representative in the world, but none of that matters if you are not showing up to vote. Families in Miami-Dade and Broward counties need more and deserve better."
Gerry Connolly (VA) is another status quo-oriented New Dem and this cycle he's being challenged by conservation and environmental activist Ally Dalsimer. She told me this afternoon that "If we are to make true systemic change that benefits all people in a lasting way, we have GOT to get more progressives into office. In the 2020 cycle, not a single incumbent running on Medicare for All lost, including folks in purple and lean conservative districts. People want a change; they want representatives who care about them, not whether or not corporate donors are happy. The reality is that, if we want M4A and other meaningful changes, we have got to oust more of these corporate Dems and replace them with true people-driven candidates. If we can get a plurality in Congress, so there's more than just a dozen folks fighting for what's right, then we can really turn things around. We have excellent opportunities for this especially in districts that are deep blue, because just having a Dem isn't good enough anymore. We need representatives who face no real threat from Republicans to push a people-centered agenda and oust representatives who have strong corporate backing."
Please consider contributing to Ally's, Christine's, Charles', Jessica's and Jason's campaigns by clicking on the Marianne Williamson endorsement page thermometer above. And don't forget to drop by on Wednesday evening.