‘While we may not always agree on how to approach every issue, we are united in the belief that we have a mandate…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) Newly elected House Democrats say they want to make passing progressive legislation—not investigating President Donald Trump—their priority in 2019, and they’re uniting in the far-left Progressive Caucus to do it.
A group of 46 freshmen Democrats sent a letter to Democratic leaders, including soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urging them to pass progressive reforms, The Washington Post reported.
“While we have a duty to exercise oversight over the Executive Branch, particularly when the Administration crosses legal lines or contravenes American values, we must prioritize action on topics such as the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, our crumbling infrastructure, immigration, gun safety, the environment, and criminal justice reform,” the first-year Democrats wrote.
“While we may not always agree on how to approach every issue, we are united in the belief that we have a mandate to debate, draft, and work across the aisle to pass legislation.”
The newly-elected members will make up about one quarter of House Democrats, giving them significant influence over the party’s direction, The Wichita Eagle reported.
Many of them had vowed to vote against Pelosi for the House speakership and called for new leadership in the party, but Pelosi was able to overcome the ultimately underwhelming resistance through a series of brokered deals, including offering more leadership posts to Progressive Caucus members.
The Progressive Caucus formed in 1991, with then-Rep. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Maxine Waters as two of its co-founders, but it has remained quiet since then, submitting to Democratic Leadership on most issues.
“The thing that gives the caucus power is that you can operate as a bloc vote in order to get things done,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Even if you can carve out a sub-portion—a sub-caucus of the Progressive Caucus, even if you could carve out that, even a smaller bloc, but one that operates as a bloc—then you could generate real power.”
Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., will co-chair the Progressive Caucus and plan to use it to pass “a bold agenda” in 2019 session, as it will expand to 90 members, nearly three times the size of the 34-member Freedom Caucus.
The Progressive Caucus does not, however, have the same unity as the Freedom Caucus. It includes members like Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who opposes single-payer healthcare; and Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., of the very un-socialist Kennedy dynasty, who recently denounced socialism in favor of “moral capitalism.”
It also includes members like Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who support a $15-per-hour minimum wage and Medicare for All.
But even Khanna, with his progressive agenda, wants to remain on good terms with Pelosi—who previously counted herself among the caucus’ members before assuming her leadership post.
“Look, I have a personal friendship with her and respect for [Pelosi],” Khanna said, according to Vox, “so I would never approach her in a sense of contingency—that’s not the relationship I have.”
Despite its increased leverage from new membership, the lack of unity in the group, and desire to stay in line with Democratic leadership, could harm the Progressive Caucus’s ability to influence the party’s direction in the House.
However, even if it does not directly control the agenda, it can still succeed in planting the seeds of its radical platform which will help shape future legislative sessions.
“We are a diverse group,” the freshmen Democrats wrote. “Politically and ideologically, we have different views. But make no mistake, the undersigned are united in the belief that our class has a responsibility and mandate for change in the U.S. Congress.”