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Rep. Ro Khanna speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, January 30, 2019. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Progressive Caucus Rips DCCC Attack on Primary Challengers as 'Slap in the Face of Democratic Voters'

"If this policy remains in place, it will mean that we will not allow new Ayanna Pressleys or AOCs to emerge," said Rep. Ro Khanna

Jake Johnson

Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Wednesday condemned the DCCC's new policy of cutting off funds to primary challengers, saying the rule will shut down "competition of ideas" and alienate the party's grassroots base.

"Primaries are often the only way that under-represented and working class people are able to have a shot at pursuing elected office."
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
"This unprecedented grab of power is a slap in the face of Democratic voters across the nation," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the first-vice chair of the CPC, said in a statement to The Intercept after a closed-door meeting with DCCC chair Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).

According to Politico, the meeting—also attended by CPC co-chairs Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)—became "heated" as the progressive leaders said the DCCC's rules would "blackball" important progressive vendors and strategists.

"It's something even [former DCCC chair] Rahm Emanuel would not have done and is totally tone-deaf to the grassroots activists across our nation," Khanna said. "Let's be clear. If this policy remains in place, it will mean that we will not allow new Ayanna Pressleys or AOCs to emerge. It's simply wrong."

Progressive organizations responded with outrage when the DCCC unveiled the new rules last week.

The policy states that the DCCC "will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting member of the House Democratic Caucus."

Despite pushback from lawmakers and the grassroots, Bustos reportedly has no plans to reverse the new standard—which could deprive progressive primary challengers of millions of dollars in funds.

"I still think it's an open conversation," Pocan told Politico following the meeting with Bustos. "I don't think it's done. I left it thinking there's more to come.”

Progressive advocacy groups said they will not cave to the party establishment, vowing to continue challenging conservative Democrats even it means being blackballed by the DCCC.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—who unseated Wall Street-friendly Rep. Joe Crowley in a primary last year—urged the DCCC to scrap the policy in comments to reporters on Wednesday.

"Primaries are often the only way that under-represented and working class people are able to have a shot at pursuing elected office," Ocasio-Cortez said. "I think that it can reduce the odds of us getting really strong representation. We need to have kind of a farm system for the next generation."

Khanna told The Intercept that "many progressives in Congress will fight until this rule is changed."

"The DCCC is acting as a monopoly by saying that anyone who does business with them can't do business with any competition," Khanna said. "We stand for reform in Congress and reform of the Democratic Party machinery to make sure they prioritize our voters and the grassroots."

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