Jeff Cohen Norman Solomon Politics

Progressives Can’t Depend on the Congressional Progressive Caucus

Nina Turner is running for Ohio’s 11th congressional district again. [AFGE / CC BY 2.0]

By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

Sometimes one decision speaks volumes. And so it was when the Congressional Progressive Caucus — with 98 members in the House — recently chose to have its PAC endorse a corporate “moderate” against the strong progressive candidate Nina Turner. In the process, the Progressive Caucus underscored its loyalty to establishment Democrats while damaging its credibility among progressives nationwide.

The endorsement of Congresswoman Shontel Brown against Turner in their upcoming May 3 rematch came just five months after Brown took office following last year’s special election in a Cleveland area district. In last August’s Democratic primary, Brown defeated Turner with the help of funding from big corporate, Republican and hawkishly pro-Israel donors — as well as support from Republicans who voted for Brown in Ohio’s open primary. (Brown’s two most notable national endorsers were Hillary Clinton and Rep. Jim Clyburn.)

Brown is such an establishment politician that she didn’t just join the Progressive Caucus — she also quickly joined the rival New Democrat Coalition, an alliance of the most corporate Democrats in the House.

By siding with Brown against Turner, the Progressive Caucus appears to be operating like much of official Washington does — as an incumbent protection racket.

And the endorsement brought questions to the surface that have been festering for a long time. Such as:

Does the Progressive Caucus represent the interests of progressive constituencies to the establishment? Or does the Progressive Caucus represent the interests of the establishment to progressives? And if the answer is “both,” then how does that work?

Unless such questions are answered with clarity, illusions will undermine the efforts of grassroots progressives to assess situations accurately and organize effectively.

While the endorsement of Brown is a bellwether event, it is not an isolated incident. After a long history of backing down rather than using its leverage (as when it abandoned its demand in 2009 that a “public option” be part of the Affordable Care Act), the Progressive Caucus appeared to wield some real clout during the early months of the Biden presidency. Most importantly, its leadership insisted that it would not back last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill unless it moved through Congress in tandem with the Build Back Better legislation proposed by President Biden with major input from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Build Back Better was crucial for economic and social justice as well as for substantively addressing the climate emergency. And for a time, it seemed that the Progressive Caucus, under the leadership of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, was holding firm onto the necessity of passing Build Back Better along with the infrastructure measure. Simultaneity was crucial because Senate obstructionist Joe Manchin badly wanted the infrastructure bill signed into law but was hostile to Build Back Better.

The Progressive Caucus leadership vowed to not back down. And then it caved, opting to wave the infrastructure bill through the House. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was concise when she said: “I’m a No. This is bullshit.”

Other members of the expanded Squad — including Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman and Ayanna Pressley — also voted against the stand-alone infrastructure measure (and took plenty of abuse as a result).

AOC, Omar, Bush, Tlaib, Bowman and Pressley saw what was coming, as a result of the Progressive Caucus’s surrender. The infrastructure bill got through Congress, and Biden signed it on November 15. Progressives immediately lost their leverage for Build Back Better. It died.

In December, RootsAction.org (which we co-founded) published an in-depth report on the Congressional Progressive Caucus, documenting that many of its members fail to support the CPCs main priorities (like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal) and that some in the caucus are just PINOs — “Progressive In Name Only.” Those lawmakers obviously believe the “progressive” label helps them with activists and constituents back in their districts, but in Washington they tend to legislate on behalf of the corporate status quo.

The PINO report found that “16 CPC members are also part of the ideologically corporatist New Democrat Coalition” — a “moderate” caucus that advocates “market-oriented” and “fiscally responsible” policies to solve the big economic and environmental crises of our time. Add Shontel Brown to this list of dual members. (When the CPC’s PAC endorsed Brown this month, it also announced its endorsement of several of the worst PINOs running for re-election, including Jimmy Panetta.) 

The report analyzed the lack of cohesion in the Progressive Caucus and cited that deficiency in asking how one of Congress’ biggest caucuses did not muster the power to get Build Back Better across the finish line.

The Progressive Caucus leadership approach that gave up leverage for Build Back Better is akin to the one that just endorsed Shontel Brown against Nina Turner. Progressives around the country should take note and not forget: We can’t depend on the Congressional Progressive Caucus to provide the kind of leadership we need. It must come from the grassroots.

___________________________

Jeff Cohen is co-founder of RootsAction.org, a retired journalism professor at Ithaca College, and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR.

Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. 

19 comments

  1. Interesting pulled quote here: By siding with Brown against Turner, the Progressive Caucus appears to be operating like much of official Washington does — as an incumbent protection racket.

    As Norman knows, the political system in the USA is the “corporate protection racket.” All decisions, all legislation, all commerce, all discussions with those in power filter through the billionaire class, the FIRE racket, and, in a time where multiple millions are spent on pennyante legislative races, and billions on the so-called presidential campaigns, you just gotta know there is something stinky in DC.

    Putting the labels on the foreheads of these people — progressive caucus or black caucus — is just that: plastering more PR and propaganda stickers onto capitalists, whether they see themselves as Capitalist with a big ‘c’ for “criminal-corrupt,” or as Capitaist with a small ‘c’ for “compassionate colluders.”

    That anyone of these yellow bellies would vote one penny for UkiNaziLand Ukraine, for the endless TNT and C4 and lead jacketed bombs and bullets entering into Ukraine shows their true colors. This is an endless bandwagon country, and independent thinking, well, it is what it is — sculpted and scoured by the elites, the rich, the militarists, the Ivy League and the Sociopath Brigades.

    A protection racket, for sure, as in continuing criminal enterprise!

  2. Reposting an updated version previous comment that pertains here also:

    We find ourselves at a “What Is To Be Done? moment.

    First of all — anyone who calls themselves a “democratic” socialist is either delusional or lying. The only way forward for this place and humanity’s sake is with a fully empowered leftist government, similar to the PRC.

    Doing what needs to be accomplished will be the work of generations, and with no pro-capitalist or bourgeois democratic opposition.

    Our situation is dire: The Left is disorganized and vastly overmatched by the right and neoliberal forces, and unless some deus ex machina event stops them, the reactionaries are about to solidify their minority, racist, corporatist rule over the US.

    https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/the-billionaires-cutting-huge-checks-for-the-2022-midterms-213356711.html

    Trump may well be replaced by a well-organized machine led by a highly educated candidate without the crazed looniness, positioned as the “real center.”

    The reformers have failed abysmally: Biden’s attempt to ameliorate the corrosive and intensifying inequalities is dead.

    Bernie and The squad are ineffective piñatas for the right. As this article details, they’re careerists. The very fashionable AOC declined to support the Amazon workers because they aren’t in her district.

    The Ghandi-like methods of MLK and others have also failed: the Civil Rights “revolution” he and others wrought is being snuffed out.

    Segregation was never really overcome, the “races” remain separate and unequal in income, housing, education and police “protection.”

    As voter suppression and gerrymandering take full effect, the US becomes ever more a de facto apartheid nation, with cosmetic things like separate water fountains and restrooms removed and unnecessary. Police killings go on unabated, and the BLM marches that roused millions all over the globe are in the rear-view mirror.

    The working population — physical as well as intellectual workers — face a growing two-class “future” — and a well-financed rightist movement that tries to channel white rage into racism, to present Black people, women, LGBTQ people and other minorities with one discouraging defeat after another — and to inflame anger at the Left.

    Imaginary threats to children, appeals to racial fears and the incompetence and treason of the Democratic party offer voters another Hillary. Yeah, people will swallow inflation because they want to defeat Putin’s gas price hikes.

    So — what do we do?

    Most importantly — start to talk like revolutionaries.

    The left has for decades abandoned its only surefire organizational power — virulent hatred of the ruling class and the open call for its destruction.

    The Tea Party and Trumpists have hijacked this valid and powerful force and used it against us.

    We are being defeated by a minority mobilized against us: unlike the outcome of Weimar, there is not a majority here for fascism. It waits for someone to “get real” and call for the destruction and elimination of the ruling class, its enemy.

    To reject compromise and the “middle ground.”

    We need to encourage a revolutionary majority that will reject any blandishments or arguments of the other side, just as forcefully and unswervingly as their QAnon legions.

    There is no “marketplace of ideas.”

    There is only victory or defeat.

    If and when the Republicans retake power, we must reject the outcome, call it out for the illegitimate result it is and think Mandela and Hampton rather than MLK.

    Massive, disruptive demonstrations.

    Run some candidates with this message and let’s see what happens.

    We need also to act like revolutionaries.

    The union victory at NYC Amazon is a positive development, but disruptive measures in these corporate giants need to be undertaken with vigor and ruthlessness. They are, actually, very vulnerable, depend on smoothly running operations with many “break” points.

    Focus the inevitable consumer anger at the corporations.

    There is an American Communist Party, possibly it can serve as a successful vehicle.

    Important to analyze and understand history:

    Where did Gandhi’s pacifism lead? To Modi and the Hindu nationalist/corporate state, nuclear-armed, failing and blazingly unequal and desperate.

    Where did the uncompromising and non-pacifist Chinese Communist Party lead? To the second-most powerful economy on the planet and a reversal of thousands of years of desperate poverty.

  3. the progressive caucus leadership under Rep. P. Jayapal is suspect. But perhaps she simply reflects the influence of the PINO’s in the caucus. It’s always, ‘something is better than nothing’. In the end principle and integrity goes out the window for a lousy deal. Bravo AOC, Omar, Tlaib, Bowman, Bush and Pressley.

  4. The word “progressive” when used in politics defines a delusion of political power that has never existed in our political system. It has no more meaning than the word “democracy”, where no democracy exists. These words are parallel expressions of those found in religious ideologies. Once one is captured by political or religious leaders early in life, there is little hope for understanding your own irrational behavior for believing something based on faith, instead of facts.

  5. It’s interesting that in all the outrage over the endorsement of Shontel Brown, no one ever mentions that Pramila Jayapal is the CO-chair of the caucus, one of three, and that one of the other two is the Clintonite-in-progressive-clothing Mark Pocan. According to Howie Klein, Pocan notoriously sold membership in the caucus for a “donation”. I have no way of verifying that, but it’s surely no secret the progressive caucus was just a façade for decades until the Squad arrived. The idea it will suddenly become what it’s always claimed to be is absurd.

    We all need to get over the deeply ingrained Cult of Personality that invariably ends up focusing on individuals instead of taking into consideration the larger environment in which they have to act. It’s already a slog to get many of the young to engage for that very reason—and because decades of “education reform” have created a mass population for whom any issue, no matter how complex or nuanced, can be reduced to true/false or a mediated menu of choices only one of which is correct. If you think I’m exaggerating, find a good teacher and ask them.

    The problem isn’t what the Squad do or don’t do. It’s what they have to deal with in an environment that is hostile to everything they stand for, and in which they can’t trust who their allies are from one vote to the next. We need more of them, but we may be lucky to just keep the ones we have this time around because the media are drooling for a Republican-controlled Congress to keep the stalemate going, and the Democrats are for the most part happy to maintain the status quo. Real progressives challenging incumbents are systematically ignored by the media while overgrown infants throw tantrums and yell they’ll either not vote at all or will vote for anything but a Democrat because those six real progressives in Congress couldn’t work miracles.

    Anybody remember George Lakoff? He warned the Democrats 15 years ago they were handing the government over to the GOP by continuing to allow the latter to frame every issue. Of course, that was fine with the Clintonites, since they shared the same essential goals. The problem is that the progressives didn’t listen, either, so now the general population has been having the conservative mindset hammered into their minds for 50 years instead of 35. And even today will resist the suggestion they stop using conservative language to counter the flood.

    It’s easy to see overt propaganda. What too many are missing is the continuing flow of covert propaganda infusing every aspect of our culture. Want to know how it was so easy to get the anti-Russia sentiment at a fever pitch? Because TV and films and novels have been subtly reinforcing the “Russia is evil” concept over and over. As the goal to replace Putin started in earnest, it became so blatant just about every thriller novel published in the last five years has had Russians as the villains.

    Nina Turner will survive not being endorsed by the CPC, because having seen the tactics used by her enemies—and let’s not pretend they aren’t—she learned from her mistakes. It remains to be seen whether Brown will initiate another last-minute smearfest, but meantime we need to stop complaining about what’s not being done and get out and fight for what needs to be done. We either re-educate the public and clear away the fog they’ve been shrouded in, or we continue trying to fight on the enemy’s battlefield unarmed.

    1. Repeating accusations about anyone (Pocan) without information is being irresponsible ourselves. I’ve heard differently from the Nicole Sandler show; only small overlap between CPC and New Dems, some since before Pocan was in Congress and they have to sign on to legislation and vote with the Progressive caucus – not just a donation.

      1. To Nancy,
        And who gets to be a member of the caucus – and who decides what legislation they have to “sign on” to and once they do, do they all vote for it – I think we know the answer to that last ..

        As for “donations” – their status in the Party indeed depends on how much they raise for the Party, which the Party can use to back whomever it sees fit – which not infrequently means backing a candidate who runs a primary against them …

  6. You guys are dancing around it – you go just so far but not far enough – you left out when AOC, et.al refused to use their leverage to introduce a M4A resolution – backing down on opposing Pelosi – so these NO votes now are pretty much for show – they do the math and if its safe to vote NO without jeopardizing the bill the Party wants, they do – to keep folks like you praising them – to keep folks in the DP tent – this is an old trick, I have seen it on many levels – if their constituents want a certain vote – but the Party wants another, they check with the Party – if it won’t endanger what the Party wants, they vote with their “Base” – if it will endanger what the Party wants, they vote with the Party …. So AOC, and others are just following this playbook …

    Sorry, Jeff and Norm – no Dem, no matter what “caucus” they belong to will buck the Party when it counts – the last guy who tried, until he got a ride on AF1 with O, got redistricted out – buck the party and you get Kuciniched –

    If you want honest, dedicated progs you have to look outside the DP – that has been true for decades – how long before you cut the apron strings …

    This “Vote Blue, no matter Who” is an ongoing recipe for disaster if you are a really a Prog … and, contrary to “common wisdom”, there are other, better, choices out there …

  7. And lest we forget, when Jimmy Dore called for “Force-the-Vote” concerning Medicare for all, the Progressive Caucus boldly said: NO WAY!

  8. Who at this point needs yet another wheeling-and-dealing decision from the nation’s cesspool to speak volumes about its bought-and-paid-for corruption? As for progressivism, there’s a political catchword emptied of all but Orwelllian meaning for those who are going to buy into techno-totalitarian plans like Build Back Better. Of course, when you have professional critics paid to be progressive, it’s no wonder you get this thought control as boilerplate.

  9. By 2016, when liberals tried to sell Hillary Clinton as a “bold progressive,” the word lost all meaning in the political context. The “Progressive Caucus” is just a Dem Party marketing label, and the Squad… well, that’s just an embarrassment,

  10. The PINOs must figure that voters are distracted enough by their media allies deploying weapons of mass distraction so they won’t look beyond what they agree with. These pols know that in Dem primaries, the progs are the most likely to vote. Best to cater to them a bit; at least talk M4A, pro-green, whatever. Can even support a few bills if their passing would happen along with an icy underworld and airborne boars.

    These Congresscritters are funded by the same sources whose main interest is maintaining the corporate oligarchy. Does anyone believe sponsorship doesn’t come with expectations?! Poll after poll shows wide support across the country for M4A, rebuilding infrastructure, dealing with climate change, etc. That these are ignored is a huge hint whose agenda counts.

    Why give the PINOs a pass for such blather as “fiscally responsible” and “market oriented”? “Responsible” to whom?! They’re no prob with guns, no way with butter. “Market” is the darling of Austrian school econ fetishists and Reagan era supply-siders, the chief proponent of which later repudiated his own theories. It’s also a prime example of what Whitehead meant by the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Treating an abstraction as if it were a physical thing. How about we elect Dems who support their party’s traditional demand side New Deal economics?

    To use the bizspeak they so admire, this is the bottom line. Trying to be progressive and corporatist doesn’t work. The logic is the same as insisting you’re a pacifist while working for your local arms industry.

  11. Congressional caucuses are more like social clubs than political clubs, as any honest congressperson would tell you. One would think that these authors would know that, it’s not a secret and has been stated in public and to the press when the latter bothers to ask.

    As to the endorsement against Nina Turner, who cares? There is no one worth supporting in the Democratic Party. Even members of the Squad collude with Nancy Pelosi on votes to make sure that the legislation Pelosi wants gets passed, and the Squad members have proven that they won’t challenge the establishment of the Democratic Party. Our efforts should be focused on getting proportional representation and electing people who are neither Democrats nor Republicans, not falling for this kabuki theater of which corporate scum gets elected.

  12. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is where true progressive change goes to die. Everybody knows this, and the truth is cynical and depressing, but as long as there is billions, if not trillions, of dollars sloshing around in D.C. politics, there is no way we will ever see any meaningful change. Asking the CPC where there real loyalties stand is a joke. We have to stop being played by these careerists.

  13. The Progressive obviously needs a name change. Maybe just initials, OP, for Occasionally Progressive. Truth in advertising please.

  14. It appears to me that the PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS is no longer progressive and is caving to BIG Money/Corporate!!!

  15. Progressives what?
    It’s a misnomer to presuppose there exist any grouplet of people in Congress properly known as progressives. Like all other belief systems in the USA this notion has long been a lie.

    For these socalled progressives like the pacifists have had zero impact on any of empire’s wars, been unable to even taper the military industrial complex as children starve, and much more. And as Russia rightly defends itself from the evil of which they act as sheep dogs to protect they sign from the same hymnal as the war profiteers.

    Progressives what!

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