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 BustosDCCC chair: Brooks retirement signals challenge for GOP women DCCC chair: Brooks retirement signals challenge for GOP women Democrats set to use McConnell's legislative graveyard against him 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Trump cites Ocasio-Cortez to defend himself against impeachment MORE (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyCruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control access face major obstacles Ocasio-Cortez shares verse by the 'Congressional Destiny's Child' in promotion of new birth control legislation Ocasio-Cortez shares verse by the 'Congressional Destiny's Child' in promotion of new birth control legislation 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 JeffriesDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump 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 LipinskiOvernight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses House Democrats vote to overturn Trump ban on fetal tissue research 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 ClarkOvernight Health Care: Major doctors group votes to oppose single-payer | Panel recommends wider use of HIV prevention pill | New lawsuit over Trump 'conscience protection' rule Overnight Health Care: Major doctors group votes to oppose single-payer | Panel recommends wider use of HIV prevention pill | New lawsuit over Trump 'conscience protection' rule Democrats scuttle attempt to strike Hyde Amendment from spending bill 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 MeeksTop Finance Democrat offers bill to end tax breaks for private prison companies Top Finance Democrat offers bill to end tax breaks for private prison companies Criticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe 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 SwalwellCampaign dads fit fatherhood between presidential speeches Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.), who ousted longtime Rep. Pete Stark (D), now chairs a House Intelligence subcommittee. Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonDemocrats lash out at Trump's bombshell remarks Democrats lash out at Trump's bombshell remarks Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote MORE (D-Ga.) chairs a Judiciary subcommittee.

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg to debate; Warren on separate night 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.