De Blasio: The left’s new star in Washington

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday launched a liberal policy agenda he’s hoping will guide the political debate — and heighten his national profile — heading into 2016.

Speaking outside the Capitol on a sweltering day, de Blasio announced an economic plan designed to alleviate income inequality through 13 specific policy prescriptions favored by the left, including a $15 federal minimum wage, comprehensive immigration reform and universal child care for working mothers.

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The mayor — flanked by a host of Democratic lawmakers, labor leaders, immigration reformers and other liberal activists — said the agenda turns on a simple notion: “We need to reward work,” he said, “not wealth.” 

“Something is changing in America. It’s time to take that energy and crystallize it into an agenda that will make a difference,” he said. “We’ll be calling on leaders and candidates to address these issues, to stiffen their backbones, to be clear and to champion these progressive policies.”

The launch came just hours after de Blasio appeared with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at a separate economic event in Washington, bolstering his status as an influential liberal voice who might hold sway on the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton — the Democratic favorite he has refused to endorse.

The unveiling of the liberal agenda on the Capitol steps brought to mind the GOP’s 1994 Contract with America and highlighted de Blasio’s desire to expand his influence beyond the five boroughs.

Some Democrats pushed back against the notion that the mayor was seeking to nudge Clinton, a former New York senator, to the left.

“There’s gossip in Washington that this is about trying to move a certain candidate in a certain direction,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), who once headed the Democratic National Committee. “If you look at that candidate’s record, you’ll find that she’s embraced a lot of this already.” 

Still, Clinton has yet to weigh in on President Obama’s trade agenda, which liberals have attacked relentlessly as a job killer. And de Blasio wasted no time Tuesday joining those critics.

“I couldn’t agree more with Elizabeth Warren and progressives who are saying that they’re deeply concerned about this trade deal,” he said.

De Blasio also suggested Clinton should break her silence on Obama’s trade agenda.

“All leaders need to address the issue in their own way,” he said. “But it does have to be addressed.”

Flanking de Blasio at Tuesday’s press conference, liberal Democrats from both chambers of Congress framed income inequality as the central economic issue of the modern era and were quick to endorse the mayor’s nascent policy campaign.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said the push “could be the beginning of a revolution.” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said the mayor’s policy prescription represents “the meat on the bones of a progressive agenda.” And Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said, “The cavalry has arrived.” 

Among the other central provisions of de Blasio’s plan are proposals to establish universal pre-kindergarten options, adopt national paid sick leave and end tax breaks for businesses that send jobs abroad.

The mayor emphasized that his liberal coalition will be adding to the list in the weeks and months ahead. He said he’s eyeing proposals to expand Social Security, establish debt-free college educations and push investments in schools rather than in prisons. 

“This is a beginning,” he said, “and there’s more to come.”

De Blasio pushed back hard against the notion that he should stay focused on New York, rather than taking the fight to Washington and across the country.

“A lot of things my city needs happen right here. And right now, the political environment here will not allow us to get the support we need and the changes we need,” he said. “We’ve got to change the debate, change the political environment.” 

In the midst of the press conference, Senate Democrats blocked legislation providing Obama with new authority to move his controversial trade agenda. It was, perhaps, fitting that Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), among the loudest of Obama’s trade critics, made the announcement to the assembled crowd. 

“Just now, the Senate has just voted to block fast-track,” DeLauro said to cheers. “But, my friends, the fight is not over. The Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens American jobs, wages and regulations. That is exactly why we must set our public policy on a new path. And the progressive agenda is that path.”