late friday, Representative Josh Gottheimer, DN.J., released a statement expressing his dismay that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had again postponed a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, accusing a “far-left faction” of jeopardizing the president’s agenda. Joe Biden. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus had threatened to withhold their votes for the infrastructure bill unless it was preceded by a larger appeasement bill, a plan that had been in effect since the summer.
“We were chosen to achieve reasonable, sensible solutions for the American people — not to hinder us from the distant wings,” Gottheimer wrote.
Never mind that Gottheimer himself led a small group of House members to thwart the larger reconciliation bill, which contains many key priorities of the Biden administration’s agenda. And that Biden traveled to the Capitol and, in a private meeting with Democrats, endorsed the progressive strategy of passing both bills at the same time — encouraging both wings to find some they agreed on and move on.
In late August, Gottheimer and a gang of eight other House members used their influence to force Pelosi to schedule a vote on the infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate by a two-part majority. The group of conservative Democrats hoped to separate it from the broader appeasement package, which includes steep tax hikes on wealthy and hefty social spending.
But come Friday, Gottheimer was the only name on the statement after, according to Politico’s Heather Caygle, no one else of his “unbreakable nine” would sign. Later that night, a Republican representative said an angry democrat called Pelosi a “damned liar” for not laying the bill on the floor, and there was little doubt about that angry Democrat’s identity.
The goal of Gottheimer’s group was to get through the infrastructure law and then train their fire on the bigger bill. Free the hostage and then blow up the insurgents. Their demand went against the minds of Democrats two-track strategy, but Pelosi relented by giving them a date for the infrastructure floor vote: September 27.
Gottheimer and some of his allies then crept together with the dark money group No Labels, which funded their campaigns and played a major role in organizing the opposition. “You should be so proud, I can’t explain it to you, this is the pinnacle of all your work. This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t built, “Gotheimer told them, according to a recording of the conversation obtained by The Intercept. “It just wouldn’t have happened – hard stop. You should feel so proud. This is as much your victory as my victory.”
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., former chairman of the right-wing Blue Dog Coalition, celebrated that the victory would allow them to then focus on fighting the reconciliation package, which he told the group he was against. “Let’s discuss the Atonement later. Let’s pass that infrastructure package on now, and hope we don’t spend trillions more of our children’s and grandchildren’s money that we don’t really have right now,” Schrader said.
But House progressives reacted quickly, promising to freeze the bill — to hold the line — if it were to hit the ground running without the broader spending bill. Gottheimer remained confident for the next few weeks, saying privately that he was sure the progressives would fold. On September 27, it was clear that there were not enough votes to pass the bill, and Pelosi pulled it off the ground and moved it to a showdown on September 30.
On CNN Thursday, Gottheimer gave the bill a “1,000 percent” chance of passing that day. He never came close, and the bill was again withdrawn, forcing Gottheimer to meekly argue that the House had not technically adjourned. Friday would still be the same “legislative day,” he tweeted, and negotiations were underway and he was grab Red Bull and Gatorade and – hey, where is everyone going?
It is not over yet! This is just one long legislative day – we are literally not suspending. Negotiations are ongoing and we continue to work. As I said before, what Gatorade and Red Bull are getting.
— Representative Josh Gottheimer (@RepJoshG) October 1, 2021
So Gottheimer, notoriously offensive to his revolving door of staff, had no one around to advise that his Red Bull-powered statement could backfire.
The journey of the Congressional Progressive Caucus from punchline to counterpuncher spanned decades in the wilderness, followed by a rapid consolidation of power that surprised Congress this week.
Its roots go back to the 2009 and 2010 battle over the Affordable Care Act, when an outranked CPC was forced to swallow a bill that fell short of the red lines they had drawn. More than 50 members of the caucus had signed a letter promising not to support any health care reform that did not include a “robust public option,” but in the end they all did.
Two things were clear: the House and Senate needed Democrats who were more progressive, and those progressives needed to be better organized. A few new organizations popped up to make that happen. One called itself the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, or PCCC — its abbreviation is a troll of the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which was designed to counterbalance. Separately, then bloggers Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald organized a political action committee to support progressive challengers in primaries.
Two things were clear: the House and Senate needed Democrats who were more progressive, and those progressives needed to be better organized.
After the mid-term wipeout of 2010, many election battles took place with little media coverage. Two of the first progressive battles of the new era came in 2012, when a coalition of groups, including the PCCC, intervened in open primaries for House seats in San Diego and New Mexico.
In San Diego, progressives supported Lori Saldaña over right-wing businessman Scott Peters. In New Mexico, they faced Eric Griego against conservative Michelle Lujan Grisham. They both narrowly lost, and the losses have reverberated. Earlier this month, Peters cast one of three votes against a committee move to allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs. Lujan Grisham is now governor of New Mexico, where she fights progressives from her statewide position.
But, thanks in large part to the organization surrounding Griego’s campaign, which grew into a nationwide effort, Deb Haaland ran for the vacant seat of Lujan Grisham and won as a progressive. When Haaland was named Secretary of the Interior earlier this year, the primary campaign for her seat wasn’t left versus center or left versus right, but rather who was most progressive. Even in a race dominated by party insiders, it went to Melanie Stansbury, a progressive state legislator.
This week, the newly sworn-in Stansbury publicly vowed that she would hold the line with the progressive caucus and block the bipartisan bill unless both moved together. Adding regular members like Stansbury to the caucus’s public list was in some ways more valuable than compiling a list of the usual suspects, showing Pelosi that the opposition was not only deep, but broad.
Throughout the 2010s, Democrats’ ability to raise small dollars expanded gradually, boosted by Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign and then Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. there was broad support for his democratic-socialist agenda, both in terms of people and money. That same year, Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state anti-war organizer whose inspiration to enter electoral politics was Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., was elected a member of the House.
She and Wisconsin Representative Mark Pocan began transforming the progressive caucus of what former co-chair Raúl Grijalva had described as a “Noam Chomsky book-reading club” into a cohesive unit that could exert influence. The caucus set an internal agenda, but had no requirements to join. In 2018, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset New York Representative Joe Crowley, suggestion of a “sub-caucus” that could be more agile, as a block was seen internally as both a hopeful sign and a challenge. If the caucus did not organize itself, it would be supplanted by something else.
Until this week, there was no certainty that the progressive bloc would last.
At the next congress, progressives withdrew their votes on the committee in a battle to strengthen HR 3, the bill that allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Donald Trump was president, so little that the House would become law, but it was sort of a preseason win that showed the tactic could work. Prior to this congress, the CPC his ideological demands tightened for membership and shifted to a single seat to become more agile. In early 2021, Senate Leader Chuck Schumer used the CPC’s intransigence to convince Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., not to push too hard for deep cuts to unemployment benefits, telling him progressives would bring down the US bailout plan in the House. if he did. At the same time, Jayapal shied away from a clash over the $15 minimum wage after only 42 Democrats voted to ignore the MP.
Over the summer, the number of progressives willing to hold the line on the infrastructure bill continued to grow, especially as the tenacious senators refused to even explain what they were for and against. But there was no certainty until this week that the progressive bloc could last.
Ocasio-Cortez said she doesn’t blame Gottheimer for a miscalculation. “Honestly, I can see why he was so sure, CPC never got up like this until this week,” she told The Intercept. “Until this week, we were able to gather up to 14 members for a confrontation.”