Liberals infuriated by pro-incumbent House Dem policy

House Democratic leaders are defending a new policy that will exclude consultants who work for upstart challengers to Democratic incumbents from also receiving lucrative contracts from the party’s campaign arm, a move liberals are criticizing as an effort to rein in the rising energy of the progressive left.

The policy, laid out last week, requires consultants and strategists to pledge not to work for any candidate challenging a sitting Democratic member of Congress in order to be added to a list of approved vendors eligible to work for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

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Liberal groups and members of Congress — including several who beat sitting incumbents to win their seats — have objected to what they deem a “blacklist.”

“[DCCC Chairwoman] Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi accuses Trump of 'bribery' in Ukraine dealings DCCC adds senior staffers after summer departures DCCC raises more than M in October MORE and her people have made an effort the last few months to reach out to progressives, and this was an unforced error that had the net effect of likely losing the DCCC a lot of money, and potentially sidelining talent that could help flip red seats blue,” said Adam Green, who heads the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee. 

Within hours of the new policy’s announcement, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez to hold campaign rallies in Los Angeles, Las Vegas Overwhelming majority say social media companies have too much influence: poll MORE (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyIlhan Omar responds to 'Conservative Squad': 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire Booker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair MORE (D-Mass.) criticized the DCCC. Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley are two of the 10 House Democrats who won their seats by beating sitting members of their own party.

Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - An unusual day: Impeachment plus a trade deal MORE (D-N.Y.) defended the change on Tuesday, saying the party was still seeking to embrace different perspectives.

“But at the end of the day, the reality is the DCCC has a singular mission, which is to protect and preserve the majority,” said Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Veterans of the DCCC say the policy is not really new. Instead, according to half a dozen former senior officials, it just puts into writing what was once an unwritten rule, that political professionals avoid intramural battles when scant resources are better spent fighting Republicans.

“Keeping the House requires the DCCC to focus on shoring up incumbents and challenging Republicans in red and purple districts, not battling in blue districts,” said one former top DCCC official, who asked for anonymity in order to describe internal debates. “It’s extremely difficult to keep that focus if the committee is constantly being pulled into Dem-on-Dem battles.”

In practice, most consultants who do significant business with the DCCC have been loath to get involved in a race against a sitting member of Congress. Any challenger faces long odds, and taking on an incumbent can be bad for business.

In 2018, only one major Democratic consultant, the polling firm Lake Research Partners, worked for Ocasio-Cortez, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Only two vendors who worked for Pressley — Alabama-based pollster Anzalone Liszt Grove Research and The Campaign Group, a Pennsylvania firm — also worked for the DCCC.

But the policy is having an impact on the thinking of some candidates who are considering their own insurgent bids. 

Marie Newman, a Democratic activist who came within 2,100 votes of knocking off Rep. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiDemocratic group to only endorse attorney general candidates who back abortion rights Democrats unveil impeachment procedures The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges MORE (D-Ill.) in 2018, said the DCCC’s stand was influencing her as she considers whether to take another run at the Chicago Democrat.

“We are weighing that right now. It’s a consideration, I’m not going to lie. If the [DCCC] is going to move in this direction, I’m not going to lie, it’s concerning to me. So that’s one of the final decision points,” Newman told The Hill. “When you’re going to those lengths to ensure that incumbents, no matter who they are, stay in office, that feels like overreach. The policy feels like overreach to me, because it doesn’t feel like it’s entirely democratic, small d.”

Green said the new policy would cost House Democrats money from energized small-dollar donors who respond to solicitations from Ocasio-Cortez and other freshman members. Ocasio-Cortez asked her supporters to “pause” their donations to the DCCC and give instead to endangered Democrats — a solicitation that earned several members a combined $90,000 in the space of just a few hours.

Green had been in discussions with the DCCC about setting up a new fund into which Ocasio-Cortez and others could raise money for like-minded candidates. Those discussions are now on hold.

“The attempt to have a synergy of efforts just got a lot harder,” he said.

Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkThe Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing 'Squad' members recruit Raskin to run for Oversight gavel House passes third bill aimed at preventing foreign election interference MORE (D-Mass.), the vice chair of the caucus, said Democrats’ ambitious legislative agenda — including efforts to bolster voting protections — hinges on their success maintaining the gavel.

“I’ve heard concerns, and we take those seriously, and I know there are ongoing meetings with concerned parties and DCCC,” Clark said. “But the focus of this caucus is not on political consultants. It is on our ability to protect the vote.”

Clark pointed to the recent passage of H.R. 1, the Democrats’ sweeping government reform bill, as an example of what’s at stake.

“[It] starts with protecting the vote and getting Congress to be working, not for special interests, not to be beholden to dark money and influence in our campaigns, but to have the American voter wield the power at the ballot box,” she said.

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Bustos, who represents Illinois’s 17th District, spoke with members before issuing the new rules, Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksOn The Money: House passes monthlong stopgap | Broader spending talks stall | Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns | Progressives ramp up attacks on private equity Progressive Democrats ramp up attacks on private equity CNN: Biden likened Clinton impeachment to 'partisan lynching' in 1998 MORE (D-N.Y.) told The Hill. Cole Leiter, a DCCC spokesman, said Bustos had promised “to stand with and protect every member of the most diverse caucus in congressional history as we work to defend and grow our Democratic majority.”

In addition, Leiter pointed to elements of the preferred vendor application that would promote minority- and women-owned businesses. The DCCC policy says the committee will only work with vendors that are either partly owned by underrepresented groups or that have demonstrated “a sustained commitment to promoting diversity.”

“Our voters are diverse, we are actively recruiting candidates to ensure their elected officials better reflect them, and we have a responsibility to do our best to ensure the political professionals we work with do so as well,” DCCC Executive Director Allison Jaslow said in an email.

While they may be black sheep during their run against sitting members, those who win are embraced once they get to Washington. Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellLive coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Lawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests MORE (D-Calif.), who ousted longtime Rep. Pete Stark (D), now chairs a House Intelligence subcommittee. Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonDemocrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Democrat calls Gaetz the 'pot calling the kettle black' after Hunter Biden drug-use comments Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE (D-Ga.) chairs a Judiciary subcommittee.

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonOvernight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Pentagon leaders: Trump clemencies won't affect military order and discipline Deval Patrick beefs up campaign staff MORE (D-Mass.) is considering a run for president. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), a leading presidential contender, also won his seat in Congress by winning a primary contest against a sitting member of Congress, then-Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D).

Mike Lillis and Scott Wong contributed to this report which was updated at 8:12 a.m.