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Progressive Caucus eyes shakeup to boost power next Congress

The biggest revision being considered would move the CPC from two chairs to one. This would be seen as boosting Jayapal’s profile within the House, said several Democratic lawmakers and aides who speculated it could be a launching pad for future leadership ambitions. Jayapal laughed off the claim, saying she’s running to be the chair of the CPC and nothing more.

Other potential changes include new policies for attendance and voting requirements that could result in some lawmakers being put on probation by the group if they don’t meet certain thresholds, including on caucus unity. CPC leaders say those reforms — including having a single chair — would put them in line with virtually every other Democratic caucus within the House.

Lawmakers who are unhappy with the proposed changes declined to go on the record for fear of a backlash. But some of the internal friction over the rules changes have boiled over in recent days. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a leader of the task force in charge of the reforms package, resigned as chairman over the weekend, though he remains part of the panel.

“I am still a member of the task force but I did resign as the chairman of the task force on reform,” Raskin confirmed in an interview Monday. “The co-chairs of the CPC — Mark Pocan and Pramila Jayapal — have really taken the lead on the bylaw reforms and they are much better spokespeople for the proposed changes.”

Raskin was expected to run for the co-chair position being vacated by Pocan but is not going to challenge Jayapal for the sole chairmanship if the reforms package is enacted, according to multiple CPC members. The Maryland Democrat said while “many” of his ideas have been incorporated into the proposal, he “had a different perspective” about part of it but declined to specify.

Among the proposed changes is an attendance mandate, which would require members to be present for at least 50 percent of meetings, with exceptions for congressional duties like committee hearings and family emergencies.

Another new policy would allow any member to seek a formal CPC position on a bill, putting the caucus on the record for or against any legislation as long as two-thirds of the members agree.

That’s a major departure from the current policy, when Jayapal and Pocan would simply decide whether the caucus should take a formal stance on a bill. Members will also be expected to vote with the CPC two-thirds of the time on the House floor whenever the group takes an official position or risk probation.

“It’s not us deciding what we’re whipping on. It’s the members deciding. So we’ve taken away the ability for one or two people to have the solitary say of the entire caucus,” Pocan said in an interview Monday.

Pocan, who said he “self term limited” after two terms leading the caucus, also backed Jayapal in the decision to consolidate leadership into a single post, rather than two co-chairs. Asked about some members’ concerns that it centralized too much power in one person, Pocan argued: “It actually does the opposite of that. … The heart of this is really around empowering members to be more active.”

Several progressives acknowledged that the stricter rules may upset some within the diverse group, with a few lawmakers telling POLITICO they may choose to leave all together.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), a senior progressive who helped shape the changes, said the biggest concerns she’s heard so far are over the attendance policy and expects a “vigorous dialogue” on Tuesday, though she thinks people will be on board when they read the details.

Several CPC leaders, including Jayapal and Pocan, added that the intention is for its members to be more involved within the group, and not to shrink the roster.

“We are the progressive caucus, the intent is to have people who are intentional in being part of the progressive caucus,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who serves as CPC whip, said in an interview.

Omar added that she’s been hearing positive feedback from many potential incoming progressives, as well as the caucus’ existing members, as she has whipped for the proposed changes in recent days.

Already one of the largest Democratic caucuses, the CPC is expected to gain prominent members, including two progressives who ousted long-time Democratic incumbents — Jamaal Bowman in New York and Cori Bush in Missouri. Other rising liberal stars, Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones in New York, are also expected to join once elected in November.

But the CPC has at times struggled to wield its influence since Democrats recaptured the House majority in 2018, even after the emergence of Ocasio-Cortez and the “Squad” — Omar and Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — brought unprecedented national attention to the rising left.

House progressives were always going to struggle to enact their agenda in a divided Congress with a Republican-controlled White House and Senate. Still, Pelosi has paid heed to the left wing of her caucus — tucking their priorities into the House’s coronavirus response bills, for example, or teeing up liberal messaging bills on the floor.

At the same time, Pelosi has sought to balance competing demands from her centrist members — a far smaller group, but one that tends to be more willing to vote as a bloc and which delivered Democrats the majority in 2018.

And Jayapal and Pocan have been careful to avoid the “Freedom Caucus” label, even as many in their caucus felt emboldened by the 2018 Democratic takeover of the House. The conservative group frequently tormented GOP speakers and became known as hard-liners who could shut down the government but rarely implement their agenda.

The two progressive co-chiefs usually raised issues with Pelosi privately, rather than make demands or threats through the press, with exceptions for high-profile battles with moderates over the budget and immigration.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a member of the reforms task force, said he doesn’t expect the CPC to suddenly transform into a left-leaning group of bomb-throwers, even with the new caucus changes.

“We could never be — nor do we aspire to be — the Freedom Caucus,” Khanna said Monday. “The reason for that is we’re trying to build something, not tear something down.”


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