Today Raúl Grijalva, a tireless champion on behalf of America’s hard-pressed working families and an old and trusted friend of Blue America’s– our only endorsed candidate with a dedicated Act Blue Page— will be spending an hour with us here from noon to 1pm, PT, 3-4pm back East to help us understand the machinations of the debt ceiling debate roiling Washington– and the financial markets– of late. He’ll be answering questions in the live forum in the comments section below.
Aside from representing a sprawling southern Arizona congressional district that encompasses everything from the western half of Tucson down to Nogales on the Mexican border and across to Yuma on the California border, Raúl is also the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (with Keith Ellison). The Progressive Caucus is Congress’ largest, with 76 Members. In the Great Shellacking last year, when Democrats lost the House in a rout, the CPC essentially held it’s ground. While the conservative Blue Dogs lost more than half their members, the CPC only lost 4, all swept away by the refusal of Democratic and left-leaning voters to put their disappointment in Obama aside and turn out to vote. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Phil Hare (D-IL) and John Hall (D-NY) were the casualties. The Caucus picked up 3 new members at the same time: Karen Bass (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-CA) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL).
I spent some time on the phone with Raúl yesterday trying to get a better grasp on what the Caucus does and what it hopes to accomplish. Unlike the Blue Dogs, it is not a fundraising powerhouse. They are hardly the darlings of the K Street lobbyists and power-brokers who distribute the legalistic bribes to the members and the organizations that doing their bidding. When the Murdoch scandal started to break, one of the first things we saw was that his PAC was donating heavily to the Blue Dogs. Find a scandal or an outrage in any newspaper and you’ll find a source of contributions to the Blue Dogs– though never to the CPC. Members dues, meager, go to pay a single staffer and for some office supplies.
Raúl sees the CPC was a vehicle to unify Congress’ disparate progressive voices and to go beyond just unifying around individual votes. He has been working diligently to assert a kind of independence from the party leadership based on solidly progressive values and principles. “We’re often taken for granted,” he told me. “Leadership thinks ‘they have nowhere else to go’.” That’s why we’ve seen Pelosi, and especially Hoyer, making legislation and strategy more and more conservative to lure Blue Dogs and other conservatives, while basically ignoring progressives. But Raúl and Keith have forged together an inner core of nearly three dozen members who are serious about breaking away from playing the insider game that always leaves progressives coming up short.
They are building relationships with grassroots activists and advocates for the progressive agenda around the country, groups dedicated to working families, education, the environment, equality, peace… all the issues that differentiate progressives from conservatives. And they are making their members available to the media and helping give them national visibility beyond their own districts. Raúl tells me that they even plan to utilize the CPC Pac to help elect progressives in districts held by Republicans and in open districts.
Yesterday Raúl cut our chat short to get to a CPC meeting where they resolved to endorse Peter Welch’s H.R. 2663, The America Pays its Bills Act. The bill calls for a clean debt ceiling vote in order to end the Republican-created Default crisis. They also resolved that “failing a timely, satisfactory legislative agreement to end the Republican-created default crisis, the CPC urges the President to use his powers granted under section 4 of the 14th amendment to raise the ceiling.”