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Hakeem Jeffries is sick of hearing from liberals carping about how Democrats – and their leaders, of which he is one – aren’t doing enough to advance progressive policies.
“The extreme left is obsessed with talking trash about mainstream Democrats on Twitter, when the majority of the electorate constitute mainstream Democrats at the polls,” Jeffries, the Democratic caucus chairman, told The New York Times on Wednesday. “In the post-Trump era, the anti-establishment line of attack is lame — when President Biden and Democratic legislators are delivering millions of good-paying jobs, the fastest-growing economy in 40 years and a massive child tax cut.”
Jeffries’ fiery comments came after Rep.-elect Shontel Brown, the establishment favorite, triumphed over Nina Turner, an outspoken liberal former legislator, in an Ohio special election on Tuesday. Brown’s win marked the latest in a series of victories by more pragmatic candidates over more liberal alternatives.
In New York City earlier this summer, moderate Eric Adams defeated Maya Wiley, a liberal favorite, to claim the Democratic nomination for mayor. In a Louisiana House special election in April, Troy Carter defeated Karen Carter Peterson in a contest that CNN cast as a “gauge of the direction of the party more than three months into Biden’s tenure, with voters in the largely Black congressional district choosing between two divergent approaches to politics.”
That’s not to say that liberals haven’t had their moments. The sit-in at the US Capitol steps organized by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush to protest the failure of the White House to extend the eviction moratorium quite clearly played a role in the Biden administration’s reversal on the policy earlier this week. And the likes of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez remain hugely prominent voices within the party.
But there’s no question that this year has exposed the limitations of the activist left – in and out of Congress. And as Jeffries’ comments make clear, the Democratic leadership is fed up with having to hear from the Twitter left about how everything they are doing isn’t good enough.
While Jeffries is the latest member of House Democratic leadership to poke holes in the supposed influence of the liberal left wing, he’s not the first.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made little secret of her skepticism of the electoral and legislative chops of the most prominent liberal group in Congress – known as “The Squad.” (“The Squad” has emerged as a high-profile group of young women of color in Congress that includes Ocasio-Cortez, Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.)
“All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi told The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd in 2019 of “The Squad.” “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.” (Pelosi was referring to a House backed border-funding bill.)
A few months before that, Pelosi had offered a similarly dismissive message about the liberal left in Congress. “While there are people who have a large number of Twitter followers, what’s important is that we have large numbers of votes on the floor of the House,” Pelosi said.
And a few months before that, Pelosi said this when asked about the “Green New Deal,” which had been pushed hard by Ocasio-Cortez: “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?”
Some of this is just normal human stuff. Pelosi and Jeffries are in leadership positions and are tasked with trying to manage the entire Democratic caucus – from its most liberal end to its most conservative. Liberals like AOC don’t have to do that – they are free to push for their preferred solutions without any real concern for what the most conservative members among House Democrats think about it.
But the obvious emotion – as evidenced by that Jeffries quote – suggests that there is more here than just the usual tensions that exist between leaders and the rank-and-file. And since the Twitter left is a perpetual outrage machine, it’s hard to imagine that they will take the attacks by the likes of Jeffries without some significant reaction.
The battle highlights the reality that even with Democrats in charge of the White House, House and Senate, things are not all kumbaya for the majority party. Not even close.