In a March 21st
appearance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual
policy conference, one of the most powerful Democrats in the House of
Representatives, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, took a thinly veiled
swipe at three new members who are probably already better known to
U.S. voters than he is.
“There are 62 freshman Democrats,” the Representative for Maryland’s 5th district, who has led AIPAC sponsored Congressional delegations to Israel for years, told the approving crowd, “You hear me? 62 – not three.”
Although the remark
drew great applause from his audience, this telling line seemed to
come off the top of the 20 term Congressman’s head, as it is not
included in the official version of the speech on his website.
As reported by theHill the following day, Hoyer felt the need to walk back the
statement, claiming he had been “misinterpreted”, “In pointing
out that much of the press attention has been on a few new Members in
particular, I was lamenting that the media does not appear to be
paying enough attention to other excellent new Members who are also
bringing important new energy and diverse perspectives to our Caucus
and to the Congress.”
The three new Congresspersons he was presumably referring to, Minnesaota’s Ilhan Omar, Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have indeed gotten a lot of media attention, often as the result of ginned up controversies that they are expected to patiently answer for, not only to the political opposition but all too often to members of their own party, some of whom seem a little jealous of their popularity.
In terms of media coverage, while most mainstream outlets are highly critical of ideas like the Green New Deal and tuition free state college, the reporting has been much more worrying on the right, with outlets like Breitbart delighting in attacking the three without even bothering to talk about policy. At times, the anger that has been directed at Omar especially has seemed dangerously close to incitement.
All three of the new
Representatives have, to a certain degree, been taken to task for
criticizing the influence of Israel’s right-wing government over
U.S. politics, with Omar, who has been at least as critical of
similar influence peddling by Saudi Arabia, facing a very public
onslaught a few weeks prior to the AIPAC conference that many
speaking there from both major American political parties referred to
negatively, usually without outright naming her.
In a seeming victory
for those who support the Minnesota Congresswoman, most of the
current candidates running for the Democratic nomination for
president skipped the AIPAC conference this year, but it should still
come as no surprise that Hoyer was joined there by House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, showing that
the position of most of party’s establishment remains that
criticism of Israel’s government is forbidden, and to slightly
paraphrase Schumer, is the same as anti-Semitism.
Regardless, a major
dilemma for these center right Democrats isn’t just the stance
taken by these three progressives on the issues of the BDS movement
and Palestinian rights overall, but the challenge that they and
others like Ro Khanna (elected in 2017) and Ayanna Presley represent
to their continued control of the party. In fact, 25 of the new
members of the 116th Congress describe themselves as
In a move that seems to have been intended to derail challenges to incumbent Congresspeople as happened in the 2016 midterms, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) recently announced new standards for vendors, a large category that includes strategists and pollsters, on its web-site, with the relevant section reading, “…the DCCC will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting Member of the House Democratic Caucus.”
While the argument was made that this had long been unspoken DCCC policy, codifying it in this way does seem to cement a status quo that often seems to have the interests of donors rather than constituents as a priority. With representatives like Hoyer serving 20 or more terms, it makes sense that the body has a similar makeup to a generation ago.
Such rules will also
make it difficult for younger people from all backgrounds to come
into government, with Ocasio-Cortez telling reporters of the DCCC’s
new standards, “I think that it
can reduce the odds of us getting really strong representation. We
need to have kind of a farm system for the next generation.”
Representative Pressley of Massachusetts’ 7th district, who won
the office after challenging an incumbent, Mike Capuano, wrote after
learning of the new rules, “If the DCCC enacts this policy to
blacklist vendors who work with challengers, we risk undermining an
entire universe of potential candidates and vendors – especially
women and people of color – whose ideas, energy, and innovation need
a place in our party,”
Some of those who oppose the new rules tried to come to a
compromise with the DCCC, most notably Ro Khanna, the Congressman for
California’s 17th district, who argued that the rules
shouldn’t apply to those working for primary challengers in safe
blue districts but, as an unnamed DCCC “insider” explained to Time Magazine, “the rule is unlikely to change in any way.”
Party bigwigs do
have reason to worry, as these new members, some championed by the
newly influential Justice Democrats (and in some cases the Democratic
Socialists of America) represent the arrival of a new generation of
polticians drawn from activism, where the rules of decorum are less
strict, to Washington, D.C. These new members have already joined a
powerful, almost 100 member block in the Congressional ProgressiveCaucus, taking their places alongside longer serving icons like
Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters.
who are able follow the model provided by AOC, Pressley and others
have the potential to transform the party to be more responsive to
voters’ concerns from healthcare to climate change over what will
likely be an ongoing process that takes years to complete. That is,
if this potential return to the party’s roots representing working
people doesn’t drown under a tide of rule changes, negative media
coverage and an outpouring of donor money first.
If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.