Democratic civil war hits new heights
Democrats engaged in a verbal war on Thursday, with progressives and centrists accusing one another of essentially sabotaging President Biden’s agenda and putting the party’s majorities in jeopardy.
The two factions have been growing more and more mutually irritated by the day amid a stalemate over the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate and a larger, sweeping social spending measure now being crafted.
But as lawmakers wondered whether they would be voting on an infrastructure bill that progressives have vowed to tank unless the budget bill moves first, the gloves really came off.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in a CNN interview dismissed younger liberal lawmakers as newbies who don’t understand how Washington works.
“They haven’t been legislators, most of them, for a very long period of time, and a lot of them have been activists,” he said.
“My car is older than quite a few of the progressives,” Cohen added, criticizing the left flank for not compromising.
In the House, anger was mounting against Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), two moderates who have refused to sign off on a $3.5 trillion price tag on the larger spending bill. Manchin on Thursday said he could only go as high as $1.5 trillion.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) accused Senate centrists of dismissing the policy concerns of progressives, and of not treating them as equal members.
She laughed when asked by a reporter if a $1.5 trillion budget plan goes far enough to address the country’s problems.
“For one year?” the New York progressive asked rhetorically.
“Instead of them asking everyone to cater to themselves, why don’t we come to this process as equal partners?” she said.
She noted that the infrastructure bill was written by the Senate without House input, a demand also made publicly on Thursday by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“Right now they are demanding also a vote on an infrastructure bill that they have authored demanding that the House not conference it, demanding that every House member rubber stamp it with no House amendments,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“That essentially their bill, authored as is, go straight to the president’s desk without any amendments, they have no top line number for negotiations. I mean, we need to be serious,” she added.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), also speaking to CNN, said she did not believe members like Manchin and Sinema cared about her community in St. Louis.
And frustrations were also not hard to spot outside the circles of Congress.
As Manchin spoke to reporters outside the Capitol, a chant among left-wing activists of “Joe Manchin is a traitor” broke out.
A number of Democrats did try to take the temperature down, including Jayapal and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who repeatedly this week has sought to downplay intraparty tensions.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who is known for having a sharp tone on Twitter and who earlier this week said voting on the infrastructure bill alone would represent a “betrayal,” said Cohen’s words were unfortunate but did not go on the attack.
“This is not what makes it better,” Tlaib told The Hill when asked about the remarks.
“I don’t like responding to comments like that,” Tlaib said. “I’m really here to tell the human stories of my residents.”
But others were more than willing to engage with the critique.
“Many people are misinformed,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) in a brief interview after he addressed dozens of grassroots activists. “Or maybe they misunderstood the progressive movement.”
“The thing about the progressive movement is we’re challenging how Washington historically has worked,” he added. “We’re pushing back and saying ‘hell no.’ ”
Moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, accused progressives of being too skeptical of centrists. And in truth, many progressives believe it is important for the social spending bill to move through the House and Senate ahead of the infrastructure bill because they do not trust centrists to back the larger bill without the leverage of infrastructure.
“I think progressives don’t trust moderates,” Cuellar told The Hill. “I was here in 2010 where they said go big, go bold,” he added, referencing how Democrats lost the House after passing former President Obama’s health care law.
“We have to have 50 votes in the Senate. Not only Bernie Sanders. Not only Elizabeth Warren,” Cuellar said.