Bustos has tapped Reps. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), Val Demings (Fla.) and Donald McEachin (Va.) to head up the DCCC’s candidate recruitment efforts for the 2020 election cycle. And she selected Reps. Ami Bera (Calif.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.) and Brad Schneider (Ill.) to lead the campaign arm’s Frontline program to defend vulnerable incumbents in the House.
Although the lineup boasts significant racial and gender diversity, all seven DCCC leaders, including Bustos, hail from the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition. Not a single one of the DCCC members belongs to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which, with more than 95 members, is the largest single bloc within the House Democratic Caucus.
That’s a source of concern for some progressive groups that were critical of the DCCC in the 2018 election cycle for preferring to recruit moderate House candidates with proven fundraising capabilities.
“At a time when progressive members of the new class of Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are dominating national headlines and gaining grassroots supporters, the DCCC has missed another opportunity to engage where the center of energy is in the Democratic Party and in American politics,” said Waleed Shahid, communications director of Justice Democrats, a left-wing group that plans to run primary candidates against moderate House Democrats who have safe seats.
The only way we’ll get a Congress that looks like America is if progressives recruit, train and help everyday working people to run for office. Randy Bryce, Working Families Party
Diane May, a spokeswoman for Our Revolution, the successor organization for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, argued that successful House candidates ran on a progressive message in 2018.
“The DCCC would do well to incorporate members from the Congressional Progressive Caucus in candidate recruitment efforts to ensure that we continue building on the gains we made in 2018 in future elections,” May said.
Randy Bryce, a progressive ironworker who ran for Congress in Wisconsin with the support of both the DCCC and liberal groups, nonetheless took the party body to task for overlooking people with more modest socioeconomic backgrounds.
“I appreciate that the DCCC supported my campaign, but there’s no question that they are more likely to pick millionaires than people like me,” said Bryce, who became a senior adviser to the left-leaning Working Families Party after losing his race in November. “The only way we’ll get a Congress that looks like America is if progressives recruit, train and help everyday working people to run for office.”
DCCC Communications Director Jared Smith said that the exclusion of CPC members in the campaign arm’s leadership team was not deliberate.
“Serving on the recruitment and Frontline program is something members volunteer to do ― these members stepped up and sought out leadership roles, and we’re honored to have their help so we can defend and expand the new Democratic majority,” Smith said.
Smith also noted that a majority of the team is made up of people of color ― Demings and McEachin are black; Aguilar is Latino; and Bera is of South Asian descent ― and that no one from the CPC ran for DCCC chair. Bustos defeated DelBene and Rep. Denny Heck (Wash.), neither of whom are in the CPC, in a Democratic caucus election for the top post.
In addition, there will be other DCCC leadership positions for progressive members to fill in the future, according to Smith.
But the ideological makeup of the DCCC’s recruitment and Frontline teams is a marked change from the last election cycle, when the recruitment team included two CPC members: Reps. Don Beyer (Va.) and Katherine Clark (Mass.). The DCCC’s WomenLEAD program, aimed specifically at recruiting and mentoring female candidates, was co-chaired by CPC members Debbie Dingell (Mich.) and Lois Frankel (Fla.), as well as Demings.
The public squabble over progressive representation in DCCC leadership partly reflects a debate over the lessons from the successful 2018 midterm election.
An outsize share of the candidates who flipped Republican House districts had the backing of the New Democrat Coalition and the still more conservative Blue Dog Coalition.
And though The Intercept chronicled how narrow DCCC recruitment criteria ended up yielding mixed results in the 2006 and 2008 Democratic waves, the party establishment had a nearly flawless record in 2018. Progressive candidates running in GOP-held districts defeated DCCC-endorsed candidates just twice in 2018 primaries; both progressive candidates ― Dana Balter in New York and Kara Eastman in Nebraska ― went on to lose in the general election.
But 11 of the 40 Democrats who flipped Republican House seats had the CPC’s backing.
And many of the allegedly moderate Democratic freshmen in the new Congress support policies like a Medicare buy-in and expanded Social Security benefits ― stances that would have been associated exclusively with the party’s left wing just a decade ago.