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Congressional progressives get their own center

The Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled a new policy center Tuesday, aiming to strengthen the already ...

Posted: Oct 10, 2018 4:06 AM
Updated: Oct 10, 2018 4:06 AM

The Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled a new policy center Tuesday, aiming to strengthen the already largest bloc of House Democrats in anticipation of the House majority flipping after the midterms.

With 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) components, the center -- which is named the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center -- will work to align messaging and policy initiatives between progressive outside groups and progressive members of Congress — a strategy that those on the left say will help leverage their power next year.

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Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chairman of the caucus, said that the ramped-up staffing and extra capacity will help the caucus "finally flex that muscle of having so many members of Congress who are part of our caucus."

Pocan and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, first vice chairwoman of the caucus, said the group has so far raised $1.5 million for the first year of the center, while donors have made a three-year commitment for a total of $4.5 million over the first three years. They plan to hire nine staff members to work on outreach, policy, fundraising and communications -- along with three to five fellows to be placed in offices of progressive members on Capitol Hill.

"What that allows us to do is ... connect all the policy research, work that's being done on the outside, the organizing network, and the strategy to the work that's being done on the inside," Jayapal said. "I think that's a really crucial piece of the infrastructure that's been missing."

With 78 current members, the caucus represents more than a third of the current Democratic caucus, and they anticipate adding more to their numbers with some of the 40 candidates the group's political campaign arm has endorsed this cycle. The caucus also expects 13 of its members to become committee chairs if Democrats win the majority.

Among their top priorities are ideas that include Medicare-for-all, a $15 minimum wage, debt-free college, expanding collective bargaining rights, overhauling the nation's immigration laws and addressing climate change.

With the new center, progressives hope to better coordinate on research and messaging to help keep the large, diverse caucus on the same page and potentially vote as a powerful bloc on key issues.

"Sometimes people end up having to rely on K street lobbyists instead of some of the real tangible work," said Jayapal. "Our power is always greater when we leverage it as a bloc. ... I'm sure there will be times when we're extremely successful at that and times when it's harder. We're trying to do as much as we can to bring unity to a majority of the members of the caucus."

While the broader Democratic caucus has remained united on major votes during the past eight years as a minority, it's unclear yet whether they'll stay unified if they take the majority. Since the 2016 presidential race, when Sen. Bernie Sanders -- the only Senate member of the CPC -- launched a serious primary challenge against Hillary Clinton, the schism over which direction the Democratic Party will take has become a prominent theme in Democratic politics.

Another large caucus, with 68 members, is the New Democrat Coalition with more moderate Democrats that seek bipartisan solutions. They, too, have been laying out policy proposals over the past year, focusing on issues like housing, trade, infrastructure, cybersecurity, health care and making changes to the US tax system. Some of its members also belong to the Blue Dog Coalition and the Blue Collar Caucus.

Jayapal acknowledged that "like any family," the Democratic caucus will have differing viewpoints. "It's not like the day after the election, everybody is going to be on the same page," she said. But the new center, she added, will ideally help progressives convey their ideas to all Democrats, including centrists.

Ultimately, she added, Democrats agree on one thing: Winning the White House in 2020.

"We're working so ... that we elect a Democratic president who can reverse some of the terrible things that (President Donald) Trump has done but also take us down a path of prosperity," she said. "That unites the caucus most of all."

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