Washington’s new Democratic freshman ran and won on the platform of not accepting money from corporate PACs. They defeated long-standing Democratic incumbents and flipped historically red districts to blue. But will this progressive arm of the Democratic party be able to prove to their constituents that their victories weren’t merely a social experiment, but actually a campaign to change the culture of their party and of Washington? And are the progressives and Democratic Socialists emerging on the left the new Tea Partiers? If so, will their efforts be realized in 2020 just like those were of the radical conservatives in 2009?
Before We Start, Let’s Be Clear
A Socialist is someone who supports Socialism, a social organization that gives the state control of private property (which translates to the absence of private property), as well as ownership and control of both production and the distribution of income.
A Democratic Socialist supports social democracy, systems in which “extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership,” are employed through the democratic process (i.e., democratically elected governments) “in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.” In other words, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are fully committed to democracy and do not support authoritarian forms of government that are commonly associated with democratic socialism. The DSA’s website clearly states, “As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.”
The Growing Divide
Just as the Tea Party movement was a shock to the previous GOP regime, the new generation of Democrats is shaking up the left. The current conflict within the Democratic party is birthing an ever-growing gap between moderates and liberals based on differing ideologies. In some cases, even newly elected members are subject to criticism from some leftists. It’s difficult to say if this division will ever lead to party cohesion and create a force strong enough to excite a new generation of voters and sustain the blue wave. It all remains to be seen. But seasoned Democrats are already pressuring some of their new colleagues to go back on their promises and accept corporate PAC money to give the party a financial leg up in 2020; these newcomers refuse to comply. They’re dead set against keeping corporate money out of politics.
Republicans are not standing idly by as Democrats try to figure out what’s what. They’re using the increasing tension and deepening fracture as political leverage.
Centrist Democrats are getting flak from liberals for voting with Republicans on a recent gun control bill which has an amendment that expands background checks to include undocumented immigrants. The Republican amendment to the bipartisan bill (H.R. 8) stipulates that gun sellers must notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when an illegal immigrant tries to purchase a firearm. The way in which Republicans managed to get this amendment added to the bill was through a motion to recommit, which gives the minority party one last opportunity to amend a bill before the final vote is cast. This tactic usually doesn’t work — except in this case. At the last minute, “Republicans in the minority won a procedural vote that forced Democrats to rewrite their bill,” per The Hill.
The bill’s passage left critics irate because they feel the new House legislation’s language is unnecessary and has nothing to do with the bill’s original purpose. The bill already requires background checks on all firearm purchases between unlicensed sellers. It specifically “prohibits a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check.” Additionally, prior to the amendment, the bill makes exceptions for firearm transfers for hunting, gun ranges, and self-defense purposes, and for firearms given to family members as gifts.
One opponent, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), was quoted by The Hill as saying, “Well, first of all, if he fails a background check because he’s illegally in the country, that means the system knows he’s illegally in the country…so what’s the point of reporting him?”
Liberals are also angry with fellow Democrats for voting across the aisle on this piece of legislation given ICE’s history of mass deportations. They even added that H.R. 8 would have failed at preventing those recent shootings in which the shooters actually passed federal background checks.
More recently, liberals were not shy about voicing their displeasure with House Democrats for two reasons:
- Passing a resolution condemning anti-semitism and other forms of hatred against minority groups (e.g., racism, white supremacy and Islamophobia) in response to comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) about dual loyalties.
- Pushing H.R. 1 – For the People Act of 2019, a House spending bill that would increase military and domestic spending with the intent of stabilizing discretionary funding caps until 2021.
Rank-and-file Democrats say their leaders’ response to Omar’s statements are a biased attack that creates a double standard because there has yet to be a similar response to President Donald Trump and others who’ve adopted bigoted and hateful rhetoric.
Additionally, some members of the Democratic caucus say proposed increased spending levels are higher than the caps set by the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011 and would increase the spending limits by more than $350 billion. They added that the bill did not allocate enough spending for domestic programs. As a result of the opposition, H.R 1 has been indefinitely postponed.
However, the growing opposition within the party is not a one-way street. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has yet to allow a vote on the “Green New Deal,” a resolution championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and cosponsored by 91 House members, despite it being a favorite among 2020 presidential candidates. This is just another example of the growing ideological divide among Democrats and their inability to work together as a unit.
Some members of the liberal wing believe that Democrats who don’t align with the liberal agenda (e.g., those who voted for the Republican amendment) are leaving themselves vulnerable to attack by activists and Republicans and, therefore, making themselves susceptible to defeat in 2020. But moderate Democrats argue that sweeping liberal policies and an obsession with purity will lead to their party losing the majority of the House and to Trump’s re-election.
During an April 6th Obama Foundation town hall in Berlin, former president Barack Obama expressed his concerns about the continued resistance progressives are showing to conservative Democrats. He recalled his early days in politics and his desire to create immediate change in the way he wanted, and how he quickly realized that his aspirations were next to impossible and that compromise was inevitable. Obama added that if progressives shoot their own for not being legislatively puritanical, then there is a good chance they will weaken their overall effort and the movement.
Despite the clash among Democrats and party member warnings issued to the progressives, 2020 presidential candidates are echoing the drastic proposals of House purists.
These candidates have embraced ideas such as:
- Creating economic frameworks that lift up African Americans who descended from slaves to level out the playing field and support their growth. For generations, these people have been a step behind others because of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and redlining. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also proposed the idea of paying reparations to Native Americans.
- Reforming the criminal justice system and expanding the criminal justice of the Justice Department.
- Creating a Medicare for All healthcare system, putting an end to private health insurance. Many have questioned how such a system would be funded. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has answered that question.
- Reintroducing the FAMILY Act that would ensure caregivers 12 weeks of paid leave, especially helpful to those who have jobs that don’t offer such leave.
- Initiating a “WWII-scale national mobilization” to implement the Green New Deal that would quickly create a sustainable economy that is free of greenhouse gases emissions and rich with 100 percent renewable energy. It also would ensure an “Economic Bill of Rights” guaranteeing a job with a livable wage, affordable housing, and tuition-free college.
- Eliminating a Senate filibuster rule that would allow many of the aforementioned proposals to pass with a 51-majority vote instead of a 60-majority vote.
Justice Democrats’ Push for Victory in 2020
After the Justice Democrats’ political Cinderella story known as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and their others success stories (i.e., Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-WA)), they’re continuing their campaign into 2020 with the aim of transforming the Democratic party.
Justice Democrats currently have their sights set on Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), a congressman “who raised money for a Republican House incumbent last year as a popular Democratic challenger was closing in,” per The New York Times. However, the names of other moderates such as Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA) and Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) have been set forth by the progressive think tank, Data for Progress, as incumbents who should also be on Justice Democrats’ list.
Other grassroots organizations have joined the fight to help Democrats win the Oval Office and both houses of Congress, as Senate and House seats are both up for grabs in the midterms.