Progressives connect with a solid 'left' after getting knocked down
Rep. Cori Bush slammed for defense of private security
Congressional correspondent Chad Pergram reports on how the defund the police movement has divided Democrats.
If this were boxing, we’d call it a split decision for progressives in Congress.
Democratic House candidate and former co-campaign chair for the presidential bid of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Nina Turner, lost the primary to succeed Housing Secretary and former Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio. Progressives and members of the “squad” had coalesced around Turner. But many found her to be too extreme. And veteran members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) threw their support to the ultimate primary victor: Shontel Brown.
Brown will likely win a special election to finish the remainder of Fudge’s term later this fall.
But progressives did score a big win.
Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., and Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., launched a multi-night “sleep-in” on the House steps after the pandemic-related eviction moratorium that expired July 31. Following days of prodding, the progressives prompted the Biden Administration to act. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) extended the eviction freeze for two months – even if there are questions about the constitutionality of the move.
Still, progressives embraced the effort. And, they took credit for spurring the administration to act – precisely one day after the White House said it couldn’t. White House officials had put out a long list of bromides saying it was encouraging/persuading/calling on state and local officials and landlords to handle the eviction moratorium extension for them – and then reversed themselves.
“It is a huge victory for the power of direct action and not taking no for an answer,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
But the policy achievement for progressives on the eviction moratorium is emblematic of something else.
“It marks, I hope, a turning point in the way that this White House views progressives,” said Jones after nudging the Biden White House to move.
The left spurred action through revolutionary means. Sure, there were typical phone calls and meetings and strategy huddles. But they scored results through a tactic they know well: protesting.
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That’s why the members set up shop, camping out on the House steps for four consecutive nights.
“Activists are in Congress,” said Bush. “So expect for things to be different than what maybe people are used to.”
President Biden and Democratic Congressional leaders took note. But so did Republicans.
“They may be activists. But they are not informed. They’re not policymakers,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the top GOPer on the House Financial Services Committee. “Airtime and activism is not policymaking.”
Or is it?
A new “policy,” – albeit one of dubious constitutionally – is in now place.
Progressives seized social media with their protest. It went viral. TV news cameras parked near the steps, too.
“The Bernie Sanders wing of the party is the tail wagging the dog,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., “When [progressives] play the music, Democrats out here dance.”
But so far, progressive achievements are relatively thin despite lots of noise.
No Senate passage of a voting rights bill. The filibuster remains in place. The District of Columbia is still the District of Columbia and not a state. The same with Puerto Rico. Police reform is stalled. Efforts to hike the minimum wage are stagnant. No action on gun control. And while the left secured some wins in the big COVID relief bills, it often wasn’t enough for them. In fact, Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., described the pending, $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill as a “down payment.”
“Don’t make assumptions that somehow the Democratic party is being controlled by this progressive wing or that this progressive wing is all that powerful,” observed Ohio State University political science professor Herb Asher.
After all, the senators wielding the most clout now are Democratic moderates: Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V.
But fights between opposite wings of the Democratic party could doom President Biden’s agenda. This problem is especially acute as House moderates try to suppress the size of the big infrastructure bill and try to stay away from controversial policy riders. A fight looms over including immigration reform or a permanent DACA fix in the infrastructure bill.
“As a Republican, I’d like to sit on the sidelines, eat popcorn and watch,” said McHenry. “Watch as they go after each other.”
CORI BUSH DEFENDS CALLING TO DEFUND THE POLICE WHILE HAVING PRIVATE SECURITY: ‘YOU WOULD RATHER ME DIE?’
Democrats face a challenge as to who controls the party’s message. Is it Joe Manchin? Or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Some Democrats are worried the “squad” could spook voters in the middle. That’s why they’re hoping to re-boot messaging before the midterm elections. But it may not be Ocasio-Cortez who presents the most radical message. Republicans hope voters focus on Cori Bush.
“So suck it up. Defunding the police has to happen,” said Bush on CBS.
Bush’s comments forced the White House to reiterate President Biden’s opposition to defunding the police.
“There may be some in the Democratic party, including Congresswoman Bush, who disagree with him,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “But I would say the majority of Democrats we’ve seen in polling and the majority of members also agree that we should not defund the police.”
Democrats nearly lost control of the House in 2020 over the defund the police narrative. Republicans are hoping to curate that message again for 2022.
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“We saw Jen Psaki and Joe Biden say they’re not the party of defund the police, and we want to make sure voters understand that that’s absolutely not true,” said Michael McAdams, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). “They have prominent members of their caucus every week coming out and saying, ‘No, no, I want to defund the police. We need to defund the police.’”
Democrats are now fretting about the findings of an internal Democratic poll. The study revealed Democrats down by six points in generic House races next year. The news could even be worse than that. The generic ballot often tilts in favor of Democrats by several points. So, if you’re down six points – you may actually be losing by ten.
Democrats demanded their party recalibrate their message.
“The extreme voices are going to define the party,” said American University history professor Allan Lichtman. “Democrats have had messaging problems for a very long time.”
But the message voters do hear comes from the squad. That’s fine for the base. But not for swing voters the party hopes to court.
Still, there are sometimes head fakes in politics. Fox is told that leaking the bad Democratic poll to the press could be a Democratic tactic to lull Republicans into a false sense of security.
“If this were actually something they were worried about it, it wouldn’t have gotten to the press,” said former House Democratic leadership aide Michael Hardaway. “The fact that it did tells you everything you need to know about the Democrats strategy in terms of wanting people to think that they’re worried about this.”
Some Democrats believe Republicans are getting cocky about their chances.
“I think the Republicans are already measuring the drapes,” said Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., who is in charge of helping Democrats re-elect their most-vulnerable members.
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“I think they’d like to believe that,” countered Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., head of the NRCC. “No one is resting on their laurels. No one is going to be overconfident.”
But one thing is for sure: Democrats face a tougher road in 2022.
Activism of the squad may spark the base of the party. But that approach could alienate the very voters they need.
And that’s a split decision for Democrats across the board.
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