“This is not about me,” Ocasio-Cortez, the biggest star in a class of new left-wing Democrats, said to reporters and activists with the Sunshine Movement, an environmental advocacy group. “Should Leader Pelosi become the next speaker of the House, we need to tell her that we’ve got her back in showing and pursuing the most progressive energy agenda that this country has ever seen.”
The protest, months in the making, was a preview of how the energized left planned to interact with a reviving Democratic Party. It wasn’t taking power for granted. It was going to apply pressure, whenever it could, with the media watching.
The 2018 elections gave relief and some bragging rights to traditional Democratic power brokers such as labor unions, civil rights groups and abortions rights groups. They also tested the groups that had burst onto the scene during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, such as the Sunrise Movement and the groups founded after the 2016 election — Indivisible, SwingLeft, Women's March and more, all of them having mobilized to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and terminate the GOP’s House majority.
Organizations that existed on the fringes of the party or didn't exist at all woke up last Wednesday with an army of voter contacts and close, friendly ties with the people who may run for president in 2020.
“We succeeded in our original mission to take back the House, and we've found that our momentum is still growing,” said Ethan Todras-Whitehill, executive director of SwingLeft, a group founded less than two years ago that raised $10 million to target House races.
This dynamic isn't new; in fact, it's becoming our new normal. In 2011, the tea party movement and the conservative groups it empowered, such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, shaped the conversation around the Republican congressional agenda and the presidential primary. In 2013, the same groups, supplemented by Heritage Action, pressured House and Senate conservatives to shut down the government in an attempt to stop the Affordable Care Act from being implemented.
In Congress, this strategy led to an austerity budget deal (abandoned when Republicans took power last year) and to some cuts to the ACA. In both the 2012 and 2016 elections, it reshaped the Republican Party, transforming Mitt Romney from a moderate whose own health-care plan formed the basis for the ACA to a candidate who'd unwind it and sidelining “establishment” Republicans for an eventual 2016 showdown between Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Democrats say that their liberal base and institutions won't be as sharp-edged as the right's. At a Monday news conference with new members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, CPC co-chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) rejected any comparison between the 90-odd liberals in that caucus and the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Indeed, even the Tuesday protest of Pelosi's office led to the Democratic leader reaffirming that she wanted to relaunch a special climate committee.
“They like to say no, and we like to say yes,” Pocan said, referring to the HFC.
The primary electorate in 2020 might ask for more from Democrats. There are chapters of Indivisible, Women's March and Democratic Socialists of America that were not even founded until 2017. When ambitious Democrats traveled to early states in the midterms, they were asked to take bold stands and often did so. It was outside the liberal Netroots Nation conference that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that the criminal justice system was “racist, top to bottom.” It was at a conference organized by Indivisible and the Working Families Party that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), once seen as a Wall Street-friendly senator, agreed to endorse a new financial transactions tax.
In 2019, liberal groups expect to draft ambitious Democrats into many more policy fights. Moms Demand Action and other fast-growing gun-safety groups can come to Democrats with evidence from last week that candidates who cross the NRA can win statewide in the Midwest and Southwest. Indivisible, which ended the election with more than 6,000 chapters, will announce later today that it is reorienting to pass liberal bills in state legislatures. Nevada, which Democrats will control top to bottom next year, will debate ideas such as universal Medicaid; Democrats who want to be president will be in the state, hunting for support and seeing where the party's base is moving.
The labor movement will be making asks, too. No Democrat looking at the presidency has the same institutional labor support that Hillary Clinton had in 2015; union support will be up for grabs. In January, the AFL-CIO will hold a Martin Luther King Jr. activism summit that potential Democratic presidential candidates are expected to attend. Labor projects from the last cycle, such as the SEIU's “Fight for $15" minimum wage campaign, are working to bring the party's entire presidential bench on board.
“Workers in the Fight for $15 are going to keep knocking on doors, organizing their communities, and going on strike to make a powerful demand for $15 an hour and union rights that no candidate will be able to ignore,” said Allynn Umel, the group’s organizing director.
Some of the new liberal groups will stay involved without dictating terms to Democrats. SwingLeft's leaders said that while they were expanding their ambitions for 2020, they did not expect to make demands on Democratic presidential primary candidates.
“One of the ways we feel we were most helpful [in 2018] was in organizing early, but for the general election, so that there were resources there for the eventual nominee,” Todras-Whitehill said.
That position makes SwingLeft into a kind of outlier. As conservative forces inside the Democratic Party have faded, the left has grown more organized. Within hours of Tuesday's protest, HuffPost published polling data that suggested a “Green New Deal” could be a winner for Democrats; Data for Progress, a small left-wing think tank, splashed similar data across Twitter. Fears of a Democratic “civil war” were overblown in 2018, but with the election over, the party’s left has more opportunities, and pressure points, than the center that had taken credit for the wins.
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Plenty of people are going to run for president in 2020. One goal of this newsletter will be to talk to all of them, and we're off to a good start: West Virginia State Sen. Richard Ojeda, who announced his presidential bid just five days after losing a House race, spoke to us Monday morning.
Ojeda, a former Army Ranger who made his first run for office in 2016, built an enormous national following in a race that looked — and, eventually, was — not winnable for a Democrat in 2018. Having voted for Donald Trump in 2016, he ran as a critic of the president's economic agenda and of both parties' leadership in Washington. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for brevity.
Washington Post: You've been in this for around 24 hours. What's the response been so far?
Richard Ojeda: It's amazing. We're getting responses from all over the United States of America, and for the most part they're very positive.
WP: So is no one asking: Hey, you just lost a House race, why should we hand you the keys?
RO: Because we improved by 36 to 37 points over what Democrats were getting in this district. I am the person who can get people who voted for Trump to come over, because I relate to them. The majority of people who'd throw their hat into this ring are cookie-cutter politicians. Many of them will be very wealthy. And I'm sorry, the majority of people are starting to realize that those people don't relate to them. Those people have no concept of what life is like for them, what life is like for the parent just trying to put food on the table.
WP: What's your plan to keep the coal industry alive if you win?
RO: I'm not going to lie to coal miners. Coal mining will never ever be the way that it used to be. I believe there is a need for metallurgical coal, to rebuild our infrastructure and our military might, but coal is not going to be something that can sustain people, and that will come sooner than later. We need to be honest in areas that rely on coal, so we can transition those coal miners into something else. And it's got to be more than minimum-wage goals. You can't take someone who's making $90,000 a year and tell him he's going to be making $22,000.
WP: Is that any different than what Hillary Clinton said? Granted, you're not saying you'll put coal miners out of business.
RO: No, look, what she wanted to do was give people the ability to go through job training. That doesn't do anything for West Virginia. I'm saying, we need to bring things to West Virginia, and people can get trained and work in those jobs.
WP: What do you say to people who make up the majority of the party now, who say: Look, coal is killing us, and we need to stop taking carbon out of the ground?
RO: I'll say this, and I've said this to people in Silicon Valley, too. There's no reason we don't have IT jobs in West Virginia. We've got people graduating from college with IT degrees and they leave the state. You've got to build these relationships. I understand global warming exists. When I was a kid, the best thing you could get was a sled, because when it snowed in November, you wouldn't see the ground again until April showers. Now we get one snowfall in December for three inches and one in January for six inches and that's it. We need to turn that around.
WP: Where have you disagreed with the president since he took office?
RO: Let me tell you something: He's got to stop with the hate. Just think about this, it's Veterans Day, and because it's cloudy, he chose not to go Arlington Cemetery and pay his respect. [Note: The White House did not explain why the president skipped Monday's ceremonies.] This is a person who'd fight with NFL players for not standing for the national anthem, but he doesn't pay his respect to people who have given their lives for this nation. He travels across middle America and stands in front of people with no awareness of what their lives are like.
WP: What's he done right?
RO: As a person from the coal hills of West Virginia, look, I like the fact that the coal industry has picked up. That's it. It's not exactly like he saved the day. We still have miners who are laid off; just recently, a small mine with 400 workers closed its doors, because they took advantage of bankruptcy law loopholes. It's like pigs at the trough for the 1 percent, and he's a big part of that.
WP: Would Bernie Sanders have done better than Hillary Clinton did in West Virginia? Would any other Democrat have?
RO: It's easy to say that but they didn't do it. I was able to turn people around. People are tired of looking at these career politicians, these people with net worths of $45 million, who don't know what their lives are like. Then Trump came in, and he laid a fine line of BS for people.
WP: But you voted for Bernie in 2016; if he got into this, would you reconsider your own race?
RO: Hey, I've already thrown my hat in the ring.
WP: Let's imagine you're talking to a black voter in South Carolina or a Latino voter in Nevada, and they ask: How could you have voted for Trump, given what he was saying about my community? How would you answer that?
RO: It was about the community in which I live, which is full of miners and people who work in the coal industry. That was the only vote I could make that would allow the people in my area continue to feed their families. My state's the only one that's lost population for 10 years in a row. He was saying some things that I found to be disgusting.
WP: Would you run as a third-party candidate if this doesn't pan out?
RO: No. I'm a Democrat. I'm going to remain a Democrat until the day I die. The party has gotten away from true-blue Democratic values, but I believe we can get it back.
WP: Is there any circumstance, any way the Democratic nomination could wind up, where you'd vote for Trump again?
RO: No way. There's no way I'd ever make that mistake again. Mistake. You can capitalize that.
Sherrod Brown. He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he's talking about the pros and cons of a White House run with his family: “My message clearly appeals to Democrats, Republicans and independents.”
Julián Castro. The former HUD secretary huddled with donors in San Antonio on Monday.
Richard Ojeda. His 2020 campaign launched with a short Facebook video in which he pitched the idea of lifetime salary caps on anyone who wins public office.
Bernie Sanders. Jeff Weaver, his 2016 campaign manager, told CNN that Sanders's wife Jane has been cleared in a long-running investigation of the collapse of a college she ran.
Mike Bloomberg. He tells the AP that he's going to have the hard conversations about whether he could become the Democrats' 2020 nominee “Thanksgiving, Christmas and then maybe a few weeks into January.”
It was an awkward question for Democrats ever since last Tuesday night: Who'd be the first to suggest that Ohio was no longer a swing state?
We got an answer today, when Priorities USA's Guy Cecil, coming off a mostly successful year for the Democratic super PAC, ranked the key swing states ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Cecil sliced up the country (outside of safe states for either party) in three ways.
The core states, competitive for each party: Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
The expansion states, where Republicans begin with advantages: Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina.
The “watch” states, where either Democrats or Republicans start clearly ahead: Colorado, Minnesota and Virginia for Democrats and Iowa, Ohio and Texas for Republicans.
In Cecil's view, Minnesota, which has not voted Republican for president since 1972, is now as strong for Democrats as Ohio is for Republicans. The question is whether any Democrat running for president will agree, in public. Multiple top contenders swept through the state this year, offering aid to what was generally seen as the party's best statewide ticket since 2006. It went down in flames, with only Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) winning reelection.
"Can moderate Democrats learn from recent history?” by Ryan Cooper
Some very early sounding of the alarm for the incoming class of Blue Dogs and New Democrats; the quest for tighter, balanced budgets led to disaster for the last class.
What's the long-term downside of our voting system, in which late-counted and provisional ballots tend to skew Democratic? A whole lot of paranoia.
... 14 days until the Mississippi Senate runoff
... 21 days until the runoff for Georgia secretary of state