Centrist Dems push back on Warren

Moderate Democrats are pushing back at Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program Schumer: Dems want DACA fix in government spending bill The Hill interview — DNC chief: I came here to win elections MORE’s (D-Mass.) view that progressives have taken control of the party. 

“We can't win the House back with progressives running in swing states,” said former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a surrogate for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE who is leading the Fight Back California super PAC aimed at winning back seven House seats in the Golden State.

Interviews with Democratic strategists, donors and organizers from across the country reveal deep disagreement with Warren’s premise that progressives make up the “heart and soul” of the Democratic Party.  

ADVERTISEMENT
Warren offered that synopsis during a speech at the liberal Netroots Nation conference last weekend, adding that progressives are in control of the party. 

The Democrats who disagree with Warren are generally from the center of the party, and many were staunch supporters of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Russian social media is the modern-day Trojan horse Trump records robo-call for Gillespie: He'll help 'make America great again' MORE and Clinton. 

The clash is further proof of the divide in the party after 2016’s disappointment. Even as they face a Republican Party torn over how to deal with President Trump, Democrats are still trying to figure out what kind of a party they are.

The Obama and Clinton supporters say they have grown tired of having to deal with fighting over progressivism and 1990s-era battles over former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonTop Oversight Dem pushes back on Uranium One probe Bill Clinton hits Trump, tax reform plan in Georgetown speech The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE’s work on welfare and criminal justice reform, which were campaign issues last year and subjects of criticism by Warren just last week.

"I'm wary of pendulum politics," one former senior administration official to Obama said. "We can't whiplash the country."

Tauscher called it "a tired, old debate." 

"And it's certainly not going to help us win,” she said. “Our party should be looking to expand the tent. If we divide ourselves, we're doing our opponents' jobs for them.”

Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who served as a spokesman to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidTop Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor GOP in uncharted territory rolling back rules through resolutions MORE (D-Nev.), said while support has grown for many progressive issues, including a single-payer healthcare system, the party is in the midst of a rebuilding process and trying to figure out its next steps.

“I don't think we as a party can be casting too many people aside,” Manley said. “We need to figure out how to grow and bring everybody together. I realize that's happy talk but that's the reality. When you start talking about purity tests, that's a little problematic.”

Warren’s remarks at the conference in Atlanta last weekend sparked an instant headline from The New York Times saying she was taking aim at moderates. And while she didn’t mention either of the Clintons by name, the Times wrote: “Ms. Warren sent an unambiguous message that she believes the Clinton effort to push Democrats toward the political center should be relegated to history.”

Reached for comment, Kristen Orthman, Warren’s spokeswoman, pointed to a passage further down in the senator’s remarks that spoke more to inclusiveness among both sides of the party. 

"If we’re going to be the people who lead the Democratic Party back from the wilderness and lead our country out of this dark time, then we can’t waste energy arguing about whose issue matters most or who in our alliance should be voted off the island,” Warren said at the conference. “We need to see each other’s fights as our own. And I believe we can.”

Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, defended Warren, saying she’s right about progressives being at the epicenter of the party. 

“They are the dominant voice in the party,” Bannon said.

Because of that, Warren has a decent chance of climbing the ranks of potential 2020 candidates for president — particularly if Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWorld leaders reach agreement on trade deal without United States: report Sanders on Brazile revelations: DNC needs ‘far more transparency’ Sen. Warren sold out the DNC MORE (I-Vt.) doesn’t run again.

“She definitely will inherit the Sanders vote,” Bannon predicted. “And I think a candidate who is willing to speak their mind and talk like Warren does has a better chance than a centrist who is calculating about everything he or she says. I don't think the electorate wants someone calculating. … They had cool and calculating with Hillary Clinton.”

A Gallup poll out this week showed that more than 6 in 10 liberal respondents have favorable views of Warren. But the same poll showed some respondents were split in support of her: 34 percent said they had a favorable opinion of her while 31 percent viewed her negatively. 

While it’s still early in the 2020 race, Obama and Clinton loyalists have signaled that they have a favorite or two among potential candidates, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

In recent months, Harris has preached inclusivity, calling on Democrats to embrace centrist Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell A bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Collins, Manchin to serve as No Labels co-chairs MORE (D-W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampNorth Dakota rep: Trump wants me to run for Senate No room for amnesty in our government spending bill Trump bank nominee gets rough reception at confirmation hearing MORE (D-N.D.), who have been targeted by the party’s liberal wing. 

Amid the 2020 speculation looming around Harris, she has maintained that her immediate priority is helping embattled candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, including moderates and centrists.

“We can’t afford to be purists,” Harris said at an event earlier this year, according to the Los Angeles Times. “You have to ask that question of yourself. Are we going to be purists to this resistance to the point that you let these guys go? Or can you understand that you may not agree with 50 percent of their policy positions, but I can guarantee you will disagree with 100 percent of their replacements’ policy positions. So, that is part of the question. What do we have to do in this movement to be pragmatic?” 

At the same time, Warren is fighting to preserve her own space in the 2020 battle, should she choose to run, Manley said. 

“She’s fighting not only for her own space but she’s fighting to win the argument, and I have no problem with that,” Manley said. “That’s what this party is all about.”