Progressive Freshmen Toil to Find Their Footing in a Hard-Right House – US 247 News


When Representative Becca Balint saw on an encrypted text chain she uses to communicate with other Democratic women that Republicans planned to try to censure a fellow progressive, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, for participating in a pro-Gaza rally last month at the Capitol, she was angry.

Then Ms. Balint, a first-term Democrat from Vermont, got word that the formal reprimand was going to be filed by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the hard-right Republican from Georgia — and she saw her opening to hit back.

“I have to call out the fact that this woman seems to be singularly focused on coming up with new ways for Americans to hate each other,” Ms. Balint said of Ms. Greene.

Her office resurfaced a censure resolution against the Georgia Republican that Ms. Balint had introduced in July, but never filed. She quickly ran it by Democratic leaders and got a thumbs-up from Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, and Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the No. 2 Democrat, to move forward.

“Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has repeatedly fanned the flames of racism, antisemitism, LGBTQ, hate speech, Islamophobia, anti-Asian hate, xenophobia and other forms of hatred,” Ms. Balint read from the House floor last week as she filed the measure .

With a push from Democratic leadership, she abruptly abandoned the measure on Wednesday night after Ms. Greene’s attempt to officially punish Ms. Tlaib failed. But Ms. Balint’s determination to pursue it offered a glimpse of how she is trying to break through in a House dominated by the far right.

The Vermont Democrat, along with a number of fellow freshmen on the far-left flank of the Democratic Party, have formed a progressive clique of sorts in the minority, turning to one another for support as they toil to figure out their place in a chamber driven by ultraconservative Republicans bent on undermining Biden administration policies and blocking progressive priorities.

The push to censure Ms. Greene came after the Georgia Republican gave notice from the House floor last week that she was filing a similar measure against Ms. Tlaib “for antisemitic activity, sympathizing with terrorist organizations and leading an insurrection at the United States Capitol complex .” It sought to formally condemn Ms. Tlaib for joining protesters in calling for a cease-fire in Israel and Gaza at a rally on the Capitol grounds in which she accused Israel of genocide.

On Wednesday evening, Ms. Greene’s effort to punish Ms. Tlaib failed as a bloc of Republicans joined Democrats in voting to kill her, some saying they did not want to waste time on partisan measures when there was legislative work to be done.

Moments later, Ms. Balint’s measure — planned to be the next order of business — disappeared from the floor schedule. But Ms. Balint said she still counted the episode as a victory.

“We proved that standing up to bullies works,” she said.

Still, the sudden demise of her censorship resolution reflected the difficult task Ms. Balint and her progressive colleagues face in getting their progressive priorities heard. It is a lonely job, which the group — which also includes Representatives Greg Casar of Texas, Maxwell Alejandro Frost of Florida, Robert Garcia of California, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania, Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky and Delia Ramirez of Illinois — tries to make more manageable by sticking together. They meet regularly for breakfast or dinner to check in, and talk about votes and ways to push their message forward.

They keep a meme-filled group chat and celebrate birthdays with nights out dancing or at a karaoke bar.

The seven, like many liberals on Capitol Hill, have struggled to gain traction on what they came to Washington to accomplish. Of the 45 pieces of legislation members of the group have collectively introduced since the start of the 118th Congress, none have been signed into law. And only one, a measure from Mr. McGarvey to strengthen oversight of education benefits for veterans, has passed the House.

During the summer recess, Ms. Balint traveled across Vermont, where many residents were working to recover from the catastrophic flooding that ravaged much of the state in mid-July. As she stopped in communities from Londonderry to Montpelier, the state’s capital, and met with constituents, the tough political situation in Washington clearly weighed on her mind.

At a round-table discussion with flood victims, a business owner recounted how she had to wash and hand-dry $5,000 in cash from her personal safe to make payroll a week after a devastating flood. Ms. Balint wanted to know if her constituent de ella had a picture.

“Those are the kind of images that I can take on the floor of the House and show my colleagues: ‘This is what it looks like,’” Ms. Balint said.

There was no photo of the soaked bills. Nor could she promise any concrete steps to enact federal policies that could prevent such disasters — at least in the short term.

“We don’t have the votes right now to move the kind of climate action we want,” Ms. Balint told a group in Montpelier. But she expressed confidence that Democrats could flip the House and “have more of an opportunity.” ”

In an interview, she said it could be difficult to remain optimistic given the political terrain.

“This job is so hard,” Ms. Balint said. “Sometimes you feel like Sisyphus. “All you’re doing is pushing the rock up the hill, and it’s rolling back down on you.”

Newcomers to Congress struggle even in the best of times to find their footing on Capitol Hill, a place driven by seniority, relationships and legislative skill that most freshman legislators lack. But this congressional session has been extraordinary for its chaos and dysfunction, exacerbated by the influence of right-wing Republicans who have pressed their leaders to move as conservative an agenda as possible and wrought havoc when they have not gotten their way.

Still, Mr. Garcia said his constituents, and progressives across the country, were looking to their representatives in Congress to fight.

“There is an expectation from folks across the country, especially younger people in diverse communities, that we’re there to push the parties as best we can as hard as we can,” said Mr. Garcia, the president of the freshman class.

Sixteen representatives elected in 2022 joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus this year, increasing the group’s membership to 103, the largest in history. But despite their numbers, liberals have been unable to leave their mark on the legislative agenda, or even to push President Biden to embrace some of their most ambitious priorities.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who is the chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said the growth of the group had made it easier for new legislators to make inroads despite being in the minority.

“What I tell members now is you are doing important work,” Ms. Jayapal said in an interview. “Just because you’re not passing the legislation that you want to pass, you are still doing important work.”

Early action included a resolution by Mr. Garcia to expel Representative George Santos of New York, a first-term Republican, after a report by The New York Times found that Mr. Santos had misrepresented, exaggerated or lied about much of his background, including his education and career history. The move ultimately failed, but contributed to Republican efforts to keep the pressure on Mr. Santos, who faces 23 federal charges, with their own expulsion effort.

That, too, failed on Wednesday evening, but it presented Republicans with a tough vote that will allow Democrats to highlight GOP backing for a colleague with whom they would rather not be associated.

Over the summer, Mr. Casar held a daylong thirst strike on the steps of the Capitol to protest the lack of federal heat protections for workers. Two days later, the White House laid out a plan to address heat-related issues for workers.

In April, Ms. Ramirez, the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, was among a group of Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee who visited the US-Mexico border. Ms. Ramirez, whose mother crossed the border while pregnant with her more than 40 years ago, and the other Democrats attacked restrictive GOP immigration proposals.

“We need emergency resources dedicated to supporting the cities and states providing shelter to migrants,” Ms. Ramirez said at the time. “We need parole granted for all undocumented immigrants to keep families and communities together. We need flexible, expedited work permits issued. All three of these actions can be taken by the White House.”

Three months after arriving in Washington, Mr. Frost co-sponsored legislation to create a federal office to coordinate agencies on gun violence, but the effort was dead on arrival in the Republican-led House. So he turned to the White House.

The ceremony marked a victory for the 26-year-old representative — the first Generation Z member of Congress — who before being elected worked for March for Our Lives, the youth-led gun control group started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla.

For Ms. Balint, who said her constituents were deeply concerned about the state of democracy, speaking up and taking action even without the legislative power to win political victories is worthwhile. In her resolution, she cited Ms. Greene’s past antisemitic statements and circulation of mustached conspiracy theories, her anti-LGBTQ remarks, and her praise and defense of those charged in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“I need to use all the tools I can to shine a light on how bad things are right now,” Ms. Balint said on Wednesday, before it became apparent that her censure would never see a vote. “This isn’t normal behavior — even for Congress.”