In a not-too-surprising, but-still-disappointing twist, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has officially thrown her weight behind Rep. Joe Kennedy in the Massachusetts Senate Democratic primary. Pelosi officially endorsed Kennedy — an establishment Democrat seeking to unseat Sen. Ed Markey, a progressive senator who was an early supporter of such policy proposals as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. But Pelosi’s endorsement of the centrist Kennedy has created some tension among more progressive leaders and Congressional officials, specifically in relation to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee policy put in place last year that sought to blacklist firms working with candidates challenging incumbents from within the party.
Among those taking issue with the endorsement, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voiced her concern over the clear division in policy when it comes to centrists and progressive support within the party. “No one gets to complain about primary challenges again,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. She then went on to ask the DCCC, “when can we expect you to reverse your blacklist policy against primary orgs?”
The response was unified among other progressives, who took issue with Pelosi's outright endorsement, despite the fact that the DCCC itself has yet to support Kennedy's candidacy. The DCCC rules, which were first announced in March 2019, stated individual House members could hire private political vendors that do polling, advertising, digital consulting, fundraising and field organizing; but the DCCC would not hire those organizations or list them on its “preferred” vendor list.
The policy essentially sought to discourage any future primary challenges like those led by left-leaning progressives like Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley who unseated two Democratic incumbents in 2018.
Opponents of the new DCCC rules have also argued it would create further barriers for women challengers. “It is hard enough for challengers, for a lot of reasons,” Amy Pritchard, a consultant who worked with Pressley’s campaign told The New York Times last year. “And this policy is a bridge too far. I’d like to see a majority of women in Congress, and it’s not going to happen with this policy.”
With such regulations in place, progressives are now pointing to the irony of Pelosi backing a Democratic challenger, while arguing the establishment did little to support Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar in the Minnesota Democratic primary earlier this month. “Ilhan’s multimillion challenge was bankrolled by DC lobbyists & dark money groups. He blatantly admitted to using shell corporations to get around the DCCC blacklist,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. She added the DCCC rules seem “like less a policy and more a cherry-picking activity.”
In the last three years under President Donald Trump, many progressive liberals have lauded Pelosi as a force to be reckoned with — a one-woman resistance against the president. But the House Speaker has also, at times, stood in the way of some of the more radical changes proposed by a new wave of progressive lawmakers. Last year, Pelosi spoke out against Medicare for All, a popular initiative among the party’s further left-wing, and even threw some shade at Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. “It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it, right?" she said.
Meanwhile, Pelosi’s endorsement of Kennedy cited a need for “courageous leaders.” She stated, "Massachusetts and America need Joe Kennedy's courage and leadership in the Senate to fight for the change we need.” But progressive leaders with the Sunrise Movement, a climate change PAC, called the move “embarrassing” and argued that Markey’s campaign has inspired “grassroots support” due to his willingness to “stand up for working people and movements when it counts.”
Justice Democrats, the PAC that helped elect Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Pressley in 2018 echoed the same, tweeting on Thursday that her endorsement makes it very clear that there is “one set of rules for progressives and another for the party establishment.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts’s Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Collins wrote, “Nancy, the future of the Democratic Party is NOT a privileged, legacy candidate.”
Maybe it’s time the establishment realized the same. But if not, here's a suggestion for Joe Kennedy: