Are House Progressives the New Freedom Caucus?

Is the Congressional Progressive Caucus ready to become the Democrats’ version of the Freedom Caucus?

Much of the discussion of the ongoing struggle for Democrats to hit the triple bank shot of passing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, passing a social-welfare bill more than twice that size, and raising the federal borrowing limit has focused on the powers of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Biden to deliver the goods. The great Paul Kane of the Washington Post captured this perfectly: “If she can usher [Biden’s] ambitious agenda into law, Pelosi will cement her place as one of the most powerful members of Congress in the history of the country.”

Kane is right. If Pelosi, who returned from the wilderness in 2018 after losing the speakership in 2010 and failing to retake it for three cycles, can get through this narrow strait, she will join the likes of Tip O’Neill and Sam Rayburn among the great Democratic House leaders of the past century. Biden is looking for something different. He is mistrusted by the radical left in his party and is still smarting from his botched Afghanistan retreat and a summer coronavirus resurgence. Given the questions around his viability as a candidate for re-election, a triple-flutter-blast failure right now could make him a lame duck in the first half of his first term.

While it is certainly true that how these two members of the old guard manage the coming weeks will shape their futures and define them for history, the bigger question for the Democratic Party and the nation is whether this is the moment when the Democrats fall victim to the same maladies that already afflict congressional Republicans. Perhaps both parties in Congress will be held captive by a clutch of performative cable news and social media stars who use their voting bloc’s power to seek attention more than legislation. Pelosi’s iron control may give way to the pleading appeasements of whomever the Democratic version of Kevin McCarthy will be. It may be that Congress has to hit bottom before it can start to become a functional branch of government. And a Democratic Party bossed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and The Squad and a Republican Party dominated by Jim Jordan and the Freedom Caucus would produce a Congress as close to rock bottom as Charlie Sheen at an Insane Clown Posse concert.

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