With Minority Life Looming, House Progressives Turn to Joe Biden

As the final results in U.S. House races continue to roll in, forecasts broadly show Republicans taking back control of the chamber by a narrow margin. For Democrats all around, that’s an unwelcome reality.But for House progressives especially, it’s a seachange.For four years, progressives have seen their influence grow dramatically. As Congressional Progressive Caucus grew

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As the final results in U.S. House races continue to roll in, forecasts broadly show Republicans taking back control of the chamber by a narrow margin. For Democrats all around, that’s an unwelcome reality.

But for House progressives especially, it’s a seachange.

For four years, progressives have seen their influence grow dramatically. As Congressional Progressive Caucus grew larger, they became a force on policy decisions. New stars emerged with large followings and became vocal critics of the “establishment” left’s policy prescriptions. They’d cultivated a relationship with the White House—namely Chief of Staff Ron Klain—that accelerated their positions.

This includes members of the so-called “Squad,” consisting of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ilhan Omar (MN), Rashida Tlaib (MI), Ayanna Pressley (MA), Cori Bush (MO) and Jamaal Bowman (NY), all of whom were elected in or after 2src18, when Democrats ended Republicans’ eight-year hold on the chamber.

Now, if forecasts on party-control hold, Republicans won’t be bringing progressives to the negotiating table over policy. Their “no” votes on bills brought to the House floor will be assumed—not feared. They won’t have the luxury of chairing committees or party leadership who’s at least occasionally sympathetic to their cause.

And yet, progressives on and off the Hill who spoke with The Daily Beast in the wake of Tuesday’s results weren’t so discouraged.

After all, they have Biden to turn to.

We’re going to have progressive House members leading the push on the administration to use executive action, regulatory authority and its appointment powers as in as progressive a manner as possible,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the progressive group Our Revolution spun out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 2src16 presidential bid.

Geevarghese was quick to point out progressives’ wins on Tuesday night, of which there were several. New incoming party stars like 25-year-old Congressman-elect Maxwell Frost (D-FL) or Senator-elect John Fetterman (D-FL) have the left wing ecstatic—and Democrats’ staving off Republicans’ wins last week leads them to believe progressive policies aren’t all that bad to run on in elections.

But as much as House progressives want to keep their momentum, a likely new reality awaits them next term in which nearly all of their legislation will be dead on arrival. Though Geevarghese thinks progressive policies have more widespread appeal that Republicans recognize, he gets the restraints a minority could bring.

“So the truth is, yeah, the president’s going to be constrained by what he can pass. The House may not be in Democratic hands. But I think we’ve got a stronger progressive block that is going to have outsized influence on administration policy,” he added.

Congressman-elect Greg Casar (D-TX) is another progressive who won his election Tuesday night. He’s been floated as a potential Squad member—and like all of the pre-existing Squad, is an alum of the progressive group Justice Democrats, which has mounted a number of successful bids against moderate incumbents in recent years.

Asked about the role of House progressives in a likely minority, Casar didn’t mince words.

“We want to work alongside the administration to deliver progressive wins that benefit working people so that it’s very clear who’s on the side of everyday Americans and who’s on the side of big corporations and extremism,” he said.

Casar pointed to Biden’s efforts on student-debt cancellation—which he did unilaterally without congressional approval. That didn’t necessarily go over well with Republicans or even moderate Democrats. But it got the job done for the progressive cause in ways Congress surely wouldn’t have.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), another leader in the progressive space who’s been floated as a future Senate or presidential contender for the left, told The Daily Beast he was surprised by Democrats’ success on Tuesday. Where politicos broadly forecasted a whipping red wave, Democrat-wins tamped GOP momentum down to a pinkish trickle.

“This argument that the president working with the progressives to pass legislation is gonna backfire turned out to be totally wrong,” Khanna said.

But Khanna didn’t push back on the idea that Democrats are forecasted to be in the minority in the coming weeks. Asked about where their energy goes in lieu of legislative negotiations, a theme emerged: Biden is a part of that conversation.

“It goes into continuing to shape our economic agenda,” Khanna said of House progressives’ time and energy. “I mean there’s a lot of things the administration can do.”

“It goes in looking for ways that we can get smaller things done but in the right direction and working to get legislation through that can pass the House and Senate. And [being] on the frontlines of the president’s reelection to have a shaping of a bold economic and social agenda,” he added.

That formula of getting even small things done in Congress may be limited. Though Republicans are forecasted to hold on to the majority ever so narrowly, if a potential Speaker Kevin McCarthy can manage to cobble together his caucus around some common cause, he won’t need Democrats to pass policy.

And even if House Republicans do need a few Democrats on board, it’s far more likely they’ll court House Democrats’ thinning population of centrists than its growing group of progressives.

That all becomes an entirely different conversation in the Senate. With the Senate Nevada still in toss-up territory and the Georgia Senate contest headed to a runoff, party control is still up in the air.

But neither party will reach the 6src votes needed to break a filibuster, meaning most policy is bound to face a hard slog toward passage. Biden himself has also already said he’ll wield his veto power on Republican policy, as needed.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Daily Beast the ability of Democrats and progressives to work with the GOP depends on who’s got McCarthy’s ear.

“You know, [are] Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz going to be pulling strings? Or is it going to be, you know, some of them are mainstream Republicans?” he said.

But on progressives’ future, Pocan had a bit more of a forward-looking answer. Asked about where progressives’ energy and momentum goes now, should Republicans successfully land their flip, Pocan sounded like he was already thinking about Democrats’ next chance to win the House back.

“We just had the world’s best focus group called the November 8 election,” he said. “And we now need to run on the issues that motivated people enough to get out and vote.”

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