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Late last year the Congressional Progressive Caucus instituted a series of structural changes that its leaders and outside advocates hoped would turn the legislative bloc into a genuine force for change—in part by shedding members who were not fully committed to progressive policy objectives.
But a new report out Thursday claims that despite the CPC’s overhaul, a number of House Democrats who are “progressive in name only” (PINOs) remain part of the nearly 100-member strong caucus, raising questions over its potential to achieve the stated aim of “standing up for progressive ideals in Washington and throughout the country.”
“How can we achieve these critical reforms when some so-called ‘progressives’ refuse to challenge the status quo?”
Authored by award-winning journalist Christopher D. Cook and edited by Jeff Cohen, co-founder of the advocacy group RootsAction, the report primarily trains its attention on six CPC members who—in Cook’s view—are deserving of progressive primary challengers.
“Our research shows that many caucus members don’t actually legislate like progressives,” Cook said in a statement. “How can we achieve these critical reforms when some so-called ‘progressives’ refuse to challenge the status quo?”
Topping the list is Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), who “scored a full 100% wrong on core progressive issues,” according to the new analysis, which judges lawmakers based on their support for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, a patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines, and other measures.
Dean, a recipient of sizable campaign donations from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, has declined to endorse Medicare for All even as the CPC’s website unequivocally expresses support for the proposal.
The Pennsylvania Democrat has also “failed to support either of the Green New Deal measures from Reps. [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush,” Cook writes, noting that Dean told a crowd of Philadelphia activists in 2019 that “while she supports the idea of a Green New Deal, she wouldn’t co-sponsor it.”
“In foreign policy,” Cook adds, “Dean signed the March 2021 congressional letter (backed by 70 Republicans and 70 Democrats) aimed at slowing the Biden administration’s efforts to reestablish an Iran nuclear deal—a letter organized by the Israel-can-do-no-wrong lobby, AIPAC. In 2020 and 2021, she voted against amendments to reduce military spending.”
The report also spotlights Reps. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), who “has not co-sponsored either Green New Deal measure” and “voted for legislation in 2018 to boost natural gas exports”; Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), “one of 16 CPC members who is part of the corporate-allied New Democrat Coalition”; and Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.), who has “failed to cosponsor AOC’s Green New Deal resolution or Cori Bush’s Green New Deal for Cities.”
Other lawmakers dubbed PINOs in the report include Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), and Andy Kim (D-N.J.).
“By exposing their actual records, we hope to spur primary challengers, especially in thoroughly Blue districts where the primary is the only competitive election,” Cohen told Common Dreams. “A more cohesive Congressional Progressive Caucus, bereft of PINOs, would be taken more seriously by the powers-that-be when it pledged to take a firm stand. That’s not the case now. And progressive activists are desperate for a stronger force on Capitol Hill.”
Over the past several months, the CPC emerged as a key player in negotiations over a bipartisan infrastructure package and Democrats’ Build Back Better Act, which is currently on the verge of dying in the U.S. Senate due to the continued opposition of right-wing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)
For weeks, enough members of the CPC—led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—withheld their votes from the bipartisan package, demanding that the far more ambitious reconciliation bill pass simultaneously. Progressives openly voiced concern that they would lose their leverage to ensure passage of the reconciliation bill if they allowed the bipartisan measure—crafted by Manchin, Sinema, and several Republicans—to clear the House.
But last month, an overwhelming majority of CPC members relented, voting to send the bipartisan infrastructure package to President Joe Biden’s desk without winning assurances that the Build Back Better Act would pass the Senate—a decision that appears to be coming back to haunt them.
Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) were the only CPC members to vote no on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“After spending months building support for the president’s entire agenda, I voted ‘no’ on the bipartisan infrastructure package because the Build Back Better Act had not yet passed the Senate, and the senators who had been blocking lifesaving funding had not yet made any public commitments to support the bill,” Bush said in a statement Wednesday.
“I put my reputation on the line to make it clear that if we want to deliver the entire, much-needed, and long-overdue Biden agenda,” Bush added, “we must not undermine our power as a government nor the power of the people by placing the fate of Build Back Better at the feet of one Senator: Joe Manchin.”
Referring to the ongoing fight over the Build Back Better Act—which has been dramatically watered down from the original $3.5 trillion proposal—Cook asked in the new report: “How can one of Congress’ biggest caucuses—comprised of 94 representatives, one non-voting delegate, and one senator—lack the power to force passage of a modest social safety-net package already sliced nearly in half by two corporate Democratic senators?”
“For starters, the caucus could ensure that its members are committed to the CPC’s agenda,” Cook wrote, noting that the new caucus rules allow members to vote out of line with CPC positions a third of the time.
“The caucus says it ‘strongly supports a Green New Deal to take immediate, necessary steps to protect current and future generations from the deadly impact of climate change’—so shouldn’t its members support this fundamental change?” Cook continued. “The caucus adds, ‘we’re fighting to pass the Medicare for All Act to guarantee healthcare to all people living in the United States’—so, shouldn’t caucus members join this urgent fight?”
In a statement, Cohen argued the report’s findings suggest that “a more unified and cohesive CPC, a caucus with more genuine progressives and fewer PINOs, would be a much more formidable force on Capitol Hill, and a better ally with progressive movement activists across the country.”