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Democrats Are Stifling Their Liberal Wing’s Biggest Ideas

It has been more than a week since the full1 report from special counsel Robert Mueller became public, including details of numerous actions by President Trump that could constitute obstruction of justice, and the Democratic Party seems split on what to do with it. Many of the newly elected liberal firebrands in the House say Congress should start the impeachment process. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats from the old guard seem hesitant to take this step.

This is a hard issue for Democrats because it pits electoral considerations (impeachment is not particularly popular right now) against values-based ones (some Democrats argue that Trump’s conduct as described in Mueller’s report requires at least the consideration of impeachment). But I doubt that the party will move toward impeachment unless the old guard suddenly has a wholesale change of heart. On issue after issue, the Democratic old guard on Capitol Hill is winning its fights with the party’s left wing. If, say, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has one position and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland holds another, expect the Hoyer view to win out.

At least that’s largely what has gone down so far. Here’s a short list of the progressive wing’s defeats since Democrats took control of the House in January:

In all, the newly elected progressive members have made a lot of news but less legislative impact — a fact not lost on the members themselves.

“They put us in photos when they want to show our party is diverse,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, one of the liberal new members, recently tweeted. “However, when we ask to be at the table, or speak up about issues that impact who we are, what we fight for & why we ran in the first place, we are ignored. To truly honor our diversity is to never silence us.”

I don’t want to overstate my thesis — Democrats have been in control of the House for only about four months, and these dynamics could shift. Also, I’m not saying that the progressives aren’t having any impact. On the Omar resolution, the progressives got a partial win — they basically forced party leadership to adopt the broader anti-bigotry legislation, instead of focusing just on anti-Semitism.

And it’s not surprising that massive policy proposals like the Green New Deal and Medicare for all aren’t advancing. It’s a logical decision by Pelosi and party leaders not to push proposals that will likely be controversial when they have no chance of passing in the GOP-controlled Senate or signed into law by President Trump. Moreover, these ideas are having an impact on the Democratic Party — just not on the Hill. For example, several of the party’s presidential candidates have embraced the Green New Deal.

“The progressives are having the impact they should have given the context: a Senate and presidency in the hands of the Republicans, plus all the electoral considerations,” said Gisela Sin, a political scientist at the University of Illinois. Sin argued that the progressives’s strong opposition to allowing any dollars for Trump’s border wall was a factor in Pelosi taking a no-compromise stance on that issue. “We should contemplate the possibility that whatever the Democrats are achieving, it is because they have this left flank that gives the leadership more negotiating power with Republicans,” Sin said.

But so far, the party’s “Super Progressive” wing, as I think of it, has had substantially less influence on the congressional agenda than the House Freedom Caucus had in 2017 and 2018, when Republicans controlled the chamber. For example, the conservative bloc forced the House to adopt its proposal for repealing major parts of the Affordable Care Act after it blocked legislation that had largely been written by then-Speaker Paul Ryan. Members of the caucus also pushed their fellow House Republicans to pass a resolution attacking the Justice Department over its handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of e-mail as a secretary of state.

You are probably wondering why exactly the progressives are losing. There is not one simple explanation — it’s a fairly complicated story. We’ll try to answer that question in a follow-up article this week.

From ABC News:

Biden ‘probably the leader’ in South Carolina, but still early in campaign: Clyburn


  1. If redacted.

  2. Omar apologized in February for a tweet suggesting that pro-Israel groups have a lot of influence in U.S. politics in part because of how much they give in campaign contributions. Later, while speaking on a panel, Omar made a remark suggesting that American politicians are often pushed toward pledging “allegiance” to Israel.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.