SEATTLE — Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) leaders are considering new rules that would require members to vote together on certain issues and support specific policy proposals, a move aimed at empowering the liberal House group and ensuring that each of its more than 90 lawmakers is worthy of the “progressive” label.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of CPC, told The Washington Post that she’s putting the finishing touches on a requirement that members support a certain number of liberal policy prescriptions to join the group. CPC leaders also have created a task force to come up with a bloc voting proposal, rules that would require members to stick together on certain votes or negotiations.
The two-prong approach will help the CPC sharpen a “common purpose and vision,” Jayapal said. It’s part of a move by her and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), her co-chair, to maximize the CPC’s power as they seek to push the House Democratic Caucus to the left on issues such as health care and the rules governing money in politics.
“We want as many members as possible, but we do want . . . to have some guidelines about what we stand for, and we want people to embrace those guidelines,” Jayapal said.
The talk of new CPC rules comes as some outside groups want the group to take a harder line and clean house. Critics have noted, for example, that some CPC members are also part of the moderate-minded New Democratic Coalition. They’ve pushed for a purity test to ensure that members are as liberal as they purport to be.
Jayapal argued that the CPC requirements shouldn’t be considered a “purity test,” nor would they require lawmakers to vote with the caucus all the time. They also probably would have to be agreed to by the larger group.
Questions about rules governing the caucus were raised recently after several CPC members backed a GOP amendment the caucus opposed. The group had come out against language introduced by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) that CPC leaders said watered down a resolution rebuking Saudi Arabia for mass killings in Yemen.
More than a dozen CPC members, including many freshmen, voted yes, surprising liberal lawmakers and advocates. The amendment was adopted.
“It’s great to have the largest values-based caucus, but the most important part of our power comes from when we are a voting bloc,” said Charles Chamberlain, who heads the liberal group Democracy for America. “And so the more Pramila and Mark and the whole caucus can stick together in supporting the positions of the caucus overall, the better.”
Jayapal would not disclose details of the voting bloc proposal. But the entry test for CPC membership is almost finished. Lawmakers probably will have to support three out of four liberal policy prescriptions or legislation in 12 to 14 categories to claim membership, Jayapal said.
Meanwhile, a quiet debate in the liberal community is unfolding as activists and lawmakers consider the overall purpose and strategy of the CPC. Jayapal said she doesn’t think the group should act like the House Freedom Caucus, whose three-dozen conservative members banded together in times of brinkmanship to push House GOP leaders to the right. But she also wants the group to flex its muscles to secure wins.
“We have to be able to whip on votes,” she said.
The idea may not be popular with some members of the group. Jayapal said it’s very possible that some lawmakers may choose to leave because of the new requirements, but added, “I hope that doesn’t happen.”
Jayapal noted, however, that the CPC uses a sort of litmus test to determine when to back candidates for office. Its members should probably have one, too, she suggested
“When we endorse candidates, they have to fill out a questionnaire on all our priorities,” Jayapal said. “We’re now having existing members and returning members signing up to be CPC members and we’ve never given them the same questionnaire.”