By Gregg Re
Published January 10, 2019
House Democratic leaders this week passed over New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and other new progressive firebrands for memberships on powerful committees, despite a viral campaign by liberal activists.
Although it is historically rare for freshmen members of Congress to obtain sought-after seats on top committees, progressive groups said they saw the news as a setback, as they hope to enact sweeping environmental and economic reforms in the coming years. The Steering and Policy Committee, chaired by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, formally assigns members to committees.
The new Democrats have arrived with more than a little fanfare. Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old self-described Democratic socialist, has repeatedly come up short in her efforts to tangle with senior Democrats in her first days in office -- even as her social media following and positive media coverage remain virtually unmatched.
As for Tlaib, 42, she apologized earlier this week for causing a "distraction" by calling President Trump a "motherf---er" and promising to impeach him.
Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, announced this week that 10 new returing Democrats had been selected to join the panel, including five members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus: Reps. Dwight Evans, Don Beyer, Gwen Moore, Jimmy Panetta and Steven Horsford.
The Ways and Means Committee has vast authority over taxation, as well as Social Security and Medicare. New York Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi was named to the panel instead of Ocasio-Cortez.
“Our new members hail from states across the country and bring a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences to our new majority," Neal said in a news release. "Their input will strengthen our work in the coming years to improve Americans’ retirement security, lower health care costs, cut taxes for middle-class families, and modernize our nation’s infrastructure."
The far-left advocacy group Justice Democrats had called for Ocasio-Cortez, as well as California Rep. Ro Khanna, to be seated on Ways and Means.
Responding to the snub by the committee, Ocasio-Cortez spokesman Corbin Trent said that "she hoped to be on it, but we're excited to see what committees she does get."
Khanna had also personally sought membership on that panel, and advocated for more freshmen representatives to be seated on powerful committees in general.
"Progressive representation on key House committees will decide whether or not we get Medicare For All, free college, a Green New Deal, and end to mass deportation and mass incarceration," Jusice Democrats said in a statement on their website.
The statement continued: "Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leaders of the most powerful Congressional Committees are going to decide whether progressives or corporate-backed centrists will represent us in the fight for economic, racial, social and environmental justice."
Last week, over the last-minute objections of Ocasio-Cortez and Khanna, House Democrats overwhelmingly approved most of a sweeping new rules package that effectively placed restrictions on some new spending. Progressive groups said the limitation would hinder them from realizing some of their more aggressive goals.
Ocasio-Cortez had voted with Khanna to oppose the so-called "pay-go" rule included in the rules package, supported by Pelosi. That rule requires that any new mandatory spending for entitlements or tax cuts be offset by other separate revenue increases (such as tax hikes) or budget-cutting measures so that the new spending does not expand the federal deficit.
The pay-go principle, Ocasio-Cortez charged in a tweet Wednesday, was a "dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare" and other legislation.
Also shot down was Justice Democrats' bid to have Tlaib placed on the Appropriations Committee, which announced a list of new members on Thursday that did not include Tlaib. The critical committee handles government expenditures.
“In my 12 years here, I don’t think there’s ever been a freshman on Approps, Ways and Means or Energy and Commerce," Kentucky Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, who chairs the Budget committee, told Politico. Democratic Reps. Ed Case and Ann Kirkpatrick are expected to join Appropriations instead.
Tlaib, just days after drawing the ire of some top Democrats for her tirade against Trump, attracted negative press attention again by suggesting that some Republicans have a "dual loyalty" to the U.S. and Israel.
"They forgot what country they represent," Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who made history by becoming one of the first two Muslim women to ever serve in Congress, wrote on Twitter, referring to Senate Republicans pushing a pro-Israel bill during the ongoing partial federal government shutdown.
Justice Democrats has also campaigned for progressive California Rep. Katie Porter to join the financial services committee.
Despite the setbacks, there is some reason for optimism among progressive groups. A growing number of Democrats considering a presidential bid have signaled support for the sweeping "Green New Deal" pushed by Ocasio-Cortez and other liberal lawmakers, underscoring how the 2020 field is being pulled further left by the influential progressive wing.
An analysis by Fox News shows at least eight potential Democratic candidates have voiced support for or touted aspects of the proposal, which amounts to a drastic overhaul of the economy and government benefit system.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., 37, who says he is looking at a 2020 presidential run, told Fox News he was “excited” to support the proposal and be a part of the process.
“When it comes to climate change, we need to advance policies that don’t ask Americans to choose between their jobs and clean air and water,” Swalwell told Fox News this week. “We can do that by greening the grid with investments in renewable energy and a wage and skills guarantee for any displaced worker.”
Fox News' Brooke Singman contributed to this report.