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Flanked by other House Democrats, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) speaks as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) listens during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol January 4, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'So Frustrating': Pelosi Accused of Shutting Bold Progressives Out of Powerful Committees

The House Speaker's list of assignments does not include any of the progressive lawmakers advocacy groups recommended for key committee slots

Jake Johnson

"At first glance, progressives got mostly rolled."

That was how journalist David Dayen reacted on Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) announcement of appointees to three of the most powerful congressional committees, which progressives have targeted as essential for advancing ambitious policy priorities like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.

"No one here I think would be described as a progressive firebrand."
—Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Critics immediately pointed out that the bold progressives advocacy groups have been pressuring Pelosi to pick for seats on the Ways and Means and Appropriations committees—such as Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.)—were entirely absent from the House Speaker's list of assignments.

"No one here I think would be described as a progressive firebrand," the Washington Post's Mike DeBonis wrote of the committee appointments.

Among the number of progressive snubs was Pelosi's choice of Wall Street-friendly Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.)—a self-described fiscal conservative—over Ocasio-Cortez for a spot on the Ways and Means Committee, the House tax-writing body that has the power to shape—or completely stonewall—Medicare for All and other bold legislation.

"So frustrating," Ady Barkan, a progressive activist who is dying of ALS, said in response to Pelosi's assignment list.

Referring to the delivery by Markos Moulitsas, the establishment-friendly founder of the liberal Daily Kos, of thousands of roses to Pelosi's office on Wednesday, one progressive strategist told the Huffington Post's Daniel Marans: "Progressives handed Nancy Pelosi 7,000 roses today in her office. She returned the favor by shutting them out of key committees that really [control] the money in her House."

While calls for freshmen members like Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to be selected for key committees were always a long-shot due to House tradition and seniority norms, progressives were also angered by the exclusion of Jayapal and Khanna from the Ways and Means committee.

In an interview with Politico, Khanna said made his case to the Democratic leadership for a spot on Ways and Means, but ultimately his push was unsuccessful. Khanna also expressed support for the idea of having bold freshmen on key panels, despite the history of new members being denied such powerful positions.

"I'm for shaking things up and getting some new voices, I respect seniority and I think it's important to respect that and committee chairs, but a good balance would be to get some of the new members on," Khanna added.

Pelosi's announcement on Wednesday included appointees to Ways and Means, Appropriations, and Energy and Commerce, with assignments for Financial Services, Intelligence, and Judiciary still to come.

As Dayen reported for The Intercept in November, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) "secured a commitment that at least 40 percent of Democrats on five key committees would be members of the CPC."

In a series of tweets on Wednesday responding to Pelosi's announcement, Dayen noted that "11 of the 26 members named in these exclusive committee assignments are in the Progressive Caucus, but four of them are also in the New Democrat Coalition," a group of centrist lawmakers.

"Progressive[s] probably approached 40 percent on two of the three committees (maybe not [Energy and Commerce]), but there's a disproportionate number of Progressive Caucus/New Dem hybrids that made it," Dayen added.


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