Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

(From left) Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi, and Michael Swalwell during a press conference on Capitol Hill last year. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Democratic Party "Leadership" Is Upside Down

No matter how intense the top-down pressure gets from Speaker Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, we should insist from the bottom up that members of Congress stand their ground for progressive principles.

Norman Solomon

When Democrats take control of the House in early January, they’ll have two kinds of leadership—one from the top of the party’s power pyramid, the other from its base. With formal control, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer can brandish huge carrots and sticks to keep Democratic lawmakers in line. With grassroots support, a growing number of those lawmakers can—and should—strategically step out of line to fight for progressive agendas.

Pelosi and Hoyer have been running the Democratic machinery in the House of Representatives since 2003, and they’re experts at combining liberal rhetoric with corporate flackery. Pelosi is frequently an obstacle to advancing progressive proposals. Hoyer is significantly worse as he avidly serves such “constituents” as giant banks, Pentagon contractors and other Wall Street titans. The duo has often functioned as top-drawer power tools in the hands of powerful corporate-military interests.

Pelosi is a longtime wizard at generating and funneling hundreds of millions of election-cycle dollars, and as speaker she’ll wield enormous power over committee assignments. But she must keep Democratic House members minimally satisfied—and along the way that should mean yielding more power to the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Buoyed by wins in the midterm elections, the caucus includes two-fifths of all Democrats in the House.

That’s where the other kind of leadership comes in—if a hefty number of self-identified progressives in Congress go to the mat to vigorously represent progressive constituencies. For that to happen, a dubious aspect of the Progressive Caucus past must not repeat itself.

"Ultimately, the most profound progressive leadership for Congress isn’t in Congress at all. It’s in communities and movements across the country—nurturing diverse progressive strengths in many aspects of social change, including at election time."

“When historic votes come to the House floor, party functionaries are able to whip the Progressive Caucus into compliance,” I wrote six years ago. A grim pattern set in during the Obama presidency, “with many Progressive Caucus members making fine statements of vigorous resolve—only to succumb on the House floor under intense pressure from the Obama administration.”

Backing down had tragic consequences for the nation’s healthcare system. In September 2009, Progressive Caucus leaders sent a letter to President Obama pledging not to vote for any healthcare bill “without a robust public option.” They wrote: “Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates—not negotiated rates—is unacceptable.” Six months later, every member of the Progressive Caucus abandoned the demand and voted for a healthcare bill with no public option at all.

In recent years, the leadership of the Progressive Caucus has become more impressive. The current mix of leaders and new members—which includes veteran lawmaker Raul Grijalva, more recent House arrivals like Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna, and notable incoming progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley—seems to augur well.

There are encouraging signs that Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders are using new leverage to gain more power for progressives. After meeting with Pelosi on Nov. 15, Co-Chair Pocan and First Vice-Chair Jayapal released a statement saying “we are pleased that Leader Pelosi shares our commitment to ensuring that CPC members are represented proportionally on the key exclusive committees—including Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Appropriations, Financial Services and Intelligence.”

Progressive leaders can gain persuasive influence largely because they’re advocating for proposals that—as polling verifies—have wide support from the U.S. public, such as a $15-an-hour minimum wage (59 percent), Medicare for All (70 percent), progressive criminal justice reform (65 percent) and higher taxes on the wealthy (76 percent). Behind such political agenda items is an activist base eager to achieve many programs that have been obstructed by most top-ranking Democrats in Congress.

Clearly, much of the Democratic Party’s momentum is now coming from the left. And many of the positions that the timeworn Democratic leadership has staked out are now being overrun—outmatched by the cumulative power of dynamic social movements that have generated electoral clout. Medicare for All is a case in point, with numerous likely Democratic presidential candidates climbing on board.

Ultimately, the most profound progressive leadership for Congress isn’t in Congress at all. It’s in communities and movements across the country—nurturing diverse progressive strengths in many aspects of social change, including at election time.

No matter how intense the top-down pressure gets from Speaker Pelosi, we should insist from the bottom up that members of Congress stand their ground for progressive principles. And—no matter how fervently they embrace the “progressive” label—if congressmembers aren’t willing to fight for those principles, then the grassroots should mobilize: to create an outcry, to lobby and to consider launching primary challenges. No elected officials should be immune from scrutiny and accountability.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Harris Says White House Not 'Discussing' Use of Federal Land for Abortion Care

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are among the Democratic lawmakers who have expressed support for the idea as GOP-controlled states move to outlaw abortion.

Jake Johnson ·


Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo