Last weekend, Glenn Greenwald and I reported that in the midst of the shutdown, the first bill the U.S. Senate was planning to vote on -- a bill given the symbolically important title S.1 -- would be on Middle East policy and include a measure aimed at protecting Israel from boycotts by Americans. I don’t use the word “optics” much, but man, the optics of that one were bad, and once it was public, it began to fall apart, with Senate Democrats, even some who are sponsors of the bill, saying publicly that the Senate should first reopen the government before doing anything else.
Mitch McConnell is not one to take no for an answer. Though Democrats are now opposing it, he brought it to the Senate floor this week not once, not twice, but three times, and Democrats blocked it each time. Here’s our original story on that. (And if you want a primer on the boycott movement it’s targeting, here’s a short video by Mehdi Hasan.)
Tulsi Gabbard, a House Democrat from Hawaii, announced she’s running for president on Friday. She’s an enigmatic politician, and this story on her links to right-wing Hindu nationalists is just part of that story.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are now organizing themselves into committees, and Nancy Pelosi announced the winners of much-sought-after new seats on the three most powerful committees, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Appropriations. Next week we’ll learn who got on Financial Services, and I’m told many of the rising-star freshmen will get seats there, including Katie Porter (an Elizabeth Warren colleague/protege and a banking expert), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and possibly Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley as well.
Ocasio-Cortez had wanted a seat on Ways and Means, but it went to sophomore Tom Suozzi instead. Tom Brune, the very good Newsday reporter who has sat near me for the last decade in the Senate press gallery, reported that Hakeem Jeffries and the New York delegation made sure Suozzi, and not AOC, got the key spot on the panel, which had previously been held by Joe Crowley.
The fight for committee seats might seem boring, but it’s a fascinating window into House Democratic caucus politics and dynamics. Here’s my story on it with Dave Dayen and Aida Chavez, which I do think is worth reading if you have time this weekend.
PROGRESSIVES FOUGHT FOR KEY COMMITTEE SPOTS, BUT CENTRIST NEW DEMS CAME OUT ON TOP
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez failed in her long-shot bid for a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, according to an announcement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday evening. Pelosi named a member of the New Democrat Coalition, the centrist wing of the party, to the seat instead, part of a sweeping set of wins by the Wall Street-friendly caucus.
However, Ocasio-Cortez is in line to get a solid consolation prize — a seat on the House Financial Services Committee, with jurisdiction over Wall Street. Sources close to the process said that it is also likely that Progressive Caucus member Katie Porter, D-Calif., a financial services expert, will get tapped for the committee, and that Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., are in the running. This would put a strong bloc of progressives on an important committee headed by Rep. Maxine Waters of California.
Democrats have struggled to find many members to serve on Financial Services, leading to speculation that the party would actually shrink the size of the committee. Alternatively, that quandary could result in progressives being added as a last resort.
The imminent Financial Services Committee announcement would take some sting out of several disappointments for the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s high-profile rising stars, who on Wednesday were largely shut out of new assignments to three critical committees where they sought expanded representation.
The Progressive Caucus had cut a deal with Pelosi for increased representation on the so-called money committees that handle most domestic legislation. They sought membership on the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Appropriations, and Financial Services committees equal to their roughly 40 percent membership in the Democratic caucus.
Progressive Caucus members did receive several new assignments announced Wednesday night, but only hit 40 percent on Ways and Means, on which progressives had already achieved a 40 percent threshold in the previous Congress. As of now, the total averages out to 38.3 percent across all three, but those numbers will rise to 41.8 percent if three committee members join the CPC as expected.
According to numbers provided by the Progressive Caucus, membership increased on Ways and Means from 42 percent to 54 percent. Energy and Commerce moved from 29 percent to 31 percent, and Appropriations held steady at 36 percent.
Progressives have also asked for increased representation on the Financial Services Committee, with jurisdiction over Wall Street, whose makeup is still to be determined. So far, though, the caucus’s most prominent figures have not been given new committee assignments on the three major committees. Ocasio-Cortez; Tlaib; CPC co-chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; and vice chair Ro Khanna, D-Calif., all vocally pushed for inclusion on the money committees. Justice Democrats waged an outside campaign on their behalf, and other organizations engaged in petition drives and marched on Pelosi’s office. None of that was successful, showing the limits of an outside campaign on an insider issue like committee assignments.
BY CUSTOM, Ways and Means, the tax-writing committee, reserves one seat for a member who represents one of the five boroughs of New York City. The previous holder of that slot was former Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens, whom Ocasio-Cortez defeated in a primary election. Ocasio-Cortez sought to replace her predecessor, but House leaders instead chose Tom Suozzi, a New Democrat who represents the “Gold Coast” of Long Island and a few blocks of Queens.
It’s extremely rare historically for a freshman to win a seat on the committee, and indeed, none did this time around, leaving people to cite Ocasio-Cortez’s lack of seniority, rather than her politics, for the snub. But it’s also rare for a man from Long Island to claim a seat reserved for New York City. What’s more, Suozzi is just a sophomore, which drains a bit of the punch from the seniority argument. (While New York City got no representation, Philadelphia picked up two new members.)
Regional politics played a key role. “The regional structure is the heart of the committee seat distribution process. So I think what we learned on the Progressive Caucus is that it’s not about getting the leadership of the Progressive Caucus to go to Nancy Pelosi to ask for seats,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a CPC member who won a position in the lower ranks of House leadership in November, and sits on the committee that that divvies out committee seats. “Like everything else, it’s an organizing operation where you need to organize a movement within each of the regions, because that’s where the action is. Having said that, I think that progressive members did pretty well across the board, and I think are going to do increasingly well in this process,” he said, a reference to the likelihood that several of them will make it onto Financial Services.
Any major piece of legislation — whether it’s “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal, or free public college — would involve some level of revenue, putting it squarely in the domain of Ways and Means, which makes it a key spot for a legislator looking to have an impact. The seat is also traditionally sought after for its fundraising potential, as every industry in the country is concerned with federal tax policy, meaning that members of the committee are more likely to get their fundraising calls returned. (Suozzi told The Intercept that he had no interest in the committee for that purpose and that he was attracted to it because of his prior career in accounting.)