The DCCC ‘blacklist’ and the progressive struggle to transform the Democratic Party

Future candidates 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.


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 progressives.

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.

Future candidates 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.


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