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Cheri Bustos and Pramila Jayapal, leaders in the centrist and left wings, respectively, of the Democratic Party, together in December 2017.

Cheri Bustos and Pramila Jayapal, leaders in the centrist and left wings, respectively, of the Democratic Party, together in December 2017. (Photo: Rep. Jayapal Twitter account)

Jayapal Breaks Silence on DCCC Policy Protecting Incumbents From Progressive Challengers

"It is not playing games for the Democratic party to be inclusive of all its members' perspectives," said Jayapal. 

Eoin Higgins

One of the top progressive Democrats in Congress fought back publicly for the first time Thursday over efforts by the party's Congressional Campaign Committee to undercut primary challengers to incumbents.

"By the way, what is 'the far left?' Progressives, who make up 40% of the Democratic caucus and the vast majority of the primary electorate?" --Rep. Pramila Jayapal

In an interview with Politico, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.)—chair of the DCCC—said she isn't backing down from her controversial decision last month to blacklist vendors that work with new primary challengers to incumbent Democrats. 

"We've got a policy that the caucus supports, the leadership supports, and it plays the long game," Bustos told Politico

Framing the vendor policy as a way to ensure the Democrats remain in power in the House moving forward, Bustos said the party needed to concentrate on not working against one another. 

"If we're going to be successful as Democrats, and going into 2020 with a very, very fragile majority, [we've] got to be on the same team," said Bustos.

Rep.  Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, broke her public silence on the vendor decision Thursday morning in response to Bustos's interview with Politico

"It is not playing games for the Democratic party to be inclusive of all its members perspectives," Jayapal said in a tweet.  "I have refrained from commenting publicly on this issue until now, but I am extremely disappointed that there is no movement on this issue."

Jayapal also made the case that progressives represent a large section of the Democratic caucus overall and took issue with Bustos' characterizing the CPC as "the far left."

"By the way, what is 'the far left?' Progressives, who make up 40% of the Democratic caucus and the vast majority of the primary electorate?"  Jayapal said. "We will continue to push for our voice to be recognized."

Last week, Jayapal and her Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), along with caucus member Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), had a private meeting with Bustos on the DCCC's decision. The meeting didn't result in a change in policy.

"This unprecedented grab of power is a slap in the face of Democratic voters across the nation," Khanna said at the time. 

Elizabeth Bruenig, a progressive columnist for The Washington Post, condemned the policy.

"The most generous read of the DCCC’s decision is that it represents ordinary, nonideological professional cowardice," wrote Bruenig.

The DCCC's inflexibility prompted outrage from the party's liberal base, including freshman Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), both of whom unseated incumbent Democratic incumbents in primaries last year.  

While Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez got traction and media attention from their comments last week, Thursday was the first time that the Progressive Caucus's leader took the fight public.

The imbroglio over the DCCC's move to undermine primary challenges is not the only evidence of tension between the progressive and centrist factions with the party.

On Thursday, Common Dreams reported on another point of conflict between the two sides: attempts by the Democratic Party's centrist wing to water down a $15 minimum wage proposal. 

"Being in Congress means leading, and we need to lead on minimum wage," said Jayapal. 


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