White House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration
Progressives poised to shape agenda if Dems take back House
Move over, House Freedom Caucus. Progressive lawmakers are poised to play a pivotal role in the next Congress if Democrats take back the House in November.
That's because a dozen members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) are in line to chair congressional committees, which would give the left-leaning group immense power to influence the chamber's legislative agenda and strengthen their hand as chief antagonists to President Trump.
The stunning primary victory of self-described democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) has also opened up a coveted spot at the leadership table, bolstering the argument that progressives should have more representation in the party's top ranks.
Some congressional observers are predicting that congressional progressives could emerge as the liberal equivalent of the House Freedom Caucus, a group that has been highly effectively at pushing the GOP further to the right by banding together as a conservative voting bloc.
"The Freedom Caucus has been a big player in the House because of the big Republican advances in 2010," said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist. "I think that's a good analogy for what will happen with the Democratic members."
The Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 30 conservative rabble-rousers, was launched in the years following the 2010 tea party wave that swept the Republicans back into power on Capitol Hill.
Now, many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus believe their political star is on the rise, with some election experts predicting a blue wave this fall, largely fueled by anti-Trump energy on the left.
The CPC has 76 voting members in the House, and the caucus is expecting to add more lawmakers to its ranks next year after endorsing 28 candidates, like Ocasio-Cortez, this election cycle.
Some of the key issues the CPC has been championing include Medicare for all, free college tuition, lower prescription drug costs, criminal justice reform and a massive infrastructure program.
Several progressive lawmakers are in prime positions to advance legislation in those areas if Democrats win the House in the midterm elections.
Twelve CPC members hold the top-ranking Democratic seat on a committee, and 30 others are ranking members on a subcommittee.
That list includes Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee and a favorite among the party's young, liberal base, in large part because of her early calls for Trump's impeachment and viral showdowns with administration officials.
As ranking member, the Los Angeles lawmaker has called for subpoenaing records from Deutsche Bank to explore any Trump financial ties to Russia. As head of the committee, she would have greater control over those kinds of document requests.
"Even if Democrats only take back control of the House by three seats, it still gives them enormous power because of the role Congress has in investigations," Bannon said. "You're going to see subpoenas flying out to the White House like confetti."
Other CPC members who hold top Democratic posts on key committees include Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) on Judiciary; Elijah Cummings (Md.) on Oversight and Government Reform; Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) on Energy and Commerce; and Peter DeFazio (Ore.) on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), another progressive lawmaker, is the ranking member on the powerful Rules Committee, which serves as the gateway for most bills before they come to the House floor for a vote.
The Progressive Caucus could take a page out of the Freedom Caucus playbook by banding together to sink any legislation that doesn't meet their standards.
But progressive lawmakers say that they would rather play an influential role by working with party leadership to help shape the Democratic agenda -- or better yet, have a spot at the leadership table themselves.
Some of the names floated for leadership positions include Rep. Mark Pocan (Wis.), co-chairman of the progressive caucus; Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), vice-chairwoman of the group; and Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.), a first-term lawmaker from the Bay Area who endorsed both Crowley and Ocasio-Cortez in the New York primary.
"There's going to be a lot of members who are going to want to see more progressive policies become a part of the Democratic platform," Khanna told The Hill. "It's important we have a progressive member in leadership."
Even before primary season began, frustrated rank-and-file Democrats had been clamoring for a change in the party's entrenched leadership, where the top three lawmakers are all in their 70s and have held a firm grip on power for more than a decade.
Progressive lawmakers say the identity of the Democratic party is clearly changing, and they argue that leadership should better reflect the makeup of the caucus, especially if the incoming class is more progressive, younger and has more women.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been quick to defend her liberal bona fides in the wake of Crowley's loss to Ocasio-Cortez.
"I'm female. I'm progressive. What's your problem?" Pelosi told reporters at a press conference last week.
But if Pelosi and her leadership team don't aggressively push for progressive priorities next year, Khanna says the CPC will have another tool at its disposal to keep leadership in check: social media.
Khanna pointed out that Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive candidates have massive followings on social media and significant grassroots support, which could help keep outside pressure on leadership to pursue progressive policies.
"You have a lot of these new members who have extraordinary national followings and will be able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people around policies," Khanna said. "And that's a new currency of influence that has been undervalued in Washington."
"Colleagues are going to want to listen to those individuals," he added.