Still bruised by what they see as Barack Obama’s betrayals and worried that Hillary Clinton isn’t really one of them, progressives are preparing to move hard and quickly to force her hand if she wins the White House.
[ EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE| September 13, 2016 | Politico]
To start, progressive operatives say they’ve targeted two potential Clinton appointments — Tom Nides as chief of staff and Lael Brainard as Treasury secretary or trade representative — to lay down early markers against Clinton. Pick them, they warn, and progressives will punish her.
Nides, who was one of Clinton’s deputies at the State Department and is now back at investment bank Morgan Stanley, is “out of central casting for the Wall Street revolving door,” said one of the people involved with the discussions.
Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors whose career dates back to Bill Clinton’s administration, is seen by progressives as precisely the kind of establishment figure who wouldn’t represent the turn on trade policy that they demand, despite Clinton’s repeated insistence that she will oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“Putting Brainard in a position that would oversee anything about the administration’s trade policies would be a direct rebuke to a series of promises that Clinton and [campaign chair John] Podesta have made throughout 2016,” said another person involved in the discussions. “I don’t think that Brainard can be seen as a person that could implement in good conscience the trade views that Clinton has been talking about through this election season.”
Aides to Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been meeting regularly with Clinton’s campaign policy advisers. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are beginning to plan how they would lobby her White House on legislation. Activists are at the early stages of thinking through what community protests and digital organizing would look like to pressure a new Democratic president whom they’ve only ever grudgingly accepted.
Clinton, meanwhile, continues to take note of who is active on her behalf during the campaign, said a Democrat close to her, offering a little advice: If you want to have an impact in February, it helps to show up big in October.
Clinton acknowledges the atmosphere has shifted to make pulling to the left smarter politics, and she’s put out a detailed agenda that gets at much of what progressives are talking about. Yet some Clinton insiders also note that the ultra-progressive Democratic Party platform that activists argue should be a road map for a Clinton presidency was to them an easy but nonbinding way to get Bernie Sanders and his supporters off her back.
Many progressives, though, say they’ve moved past the debate over what’s in Clinton’s heart.
“That’s kind of the wrong question,” said Kurt Walters of the activist group Rootstrikers, which is involved with an effort to make Clinton rule out Wall Street bankers from top jobs. “Any political actor responds to incentives.”
They feel they trusted Obama too much, only to see him appoint Rahm Emanuel, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers at the outset of his administration, and then spend the next eight years all too often starting from the middle in bargaining with Republicans.
“People are going into this with much more eyes wide open about how much of a movement we need to build,” said Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change.
The early threats might be moot. Nides, though often talking to the candidate and top advisers, has told people he’s more interested in a national security or foreign policy job than what he and Clinton would have to go through to appoint him.
“He’s realistic about what the possibilities are,” said a friend. “I think he knows he’s not going to be chief of staff, and he doesn’t want it.”
Brainard and Nides did not return calls for comment.
Staffing isn’t the only pressure point. Progressives are looking to make Clinton speak out enthusiastically against TPP if Obama doesn’t get a vote on it in the lame-duck session, as well as holding to and expanding Obama’s lobbyist ban. If Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland isn’t confirmed before Obama leaves office, they’ll push hard against renominating him in favor of a younger and more liberal judge.
Right out of the gate, they want her to move quickly on college debt relief, talk up a minimum wage increase and pay close attention to resisting any Dodd-Frank rollbacks as she negotiates an expected tax reform deal as part of the infrastructure bill she’s said would be part of her first 100 days.
“Of course there is anxiety,” said Rebecca Katz, a Democratic operative with progressive clients around the country. “Progressives are hungry. She should throw them some red meat.”
“Secretary Clinton’s the best candidate we have,” said Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president and a last-on-the-ramparts Sanders backer, summing up the level of enthusiasm among the progressives pushing for her only because the alternative is Donald Trump.
People who’ve watched Clinton brush off threats over the years have their doubts about just how much sway the progressives are going to have, changed political moment or not.
If Clinton were to be elected with Republicans controlling at least one chamber of Congress, though, prominent progressives and Clinton supporters debate whether that would lead her to sell out her campaign promises completely to avoid deadlock, or find canny ways to insert a few priorities amid larger deals.
Clinton is less concerned with optics than Obama; for example, few can envision her doing anything like his months-long courtship of then-Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine on Obamacare just so he could claim bipartisanship from one Republican vote. And she’s not typically opposed to choosing Washington insiders for jobs, even with all the accompanying entanglements, if she thinks they’re the right people.
Pragmatic progressives are already starting to pick their battles and move past the well-worn debate about whether Clinton is a progressive.
“It’s not, yes or no, period. It’s yes or no on dozens of different issues,” said a progressive Hill staffer. “I’m hopeful that there are going to be some important issues we’re very satisfied on, and that overall we’ll be at least somewhat satisfied.”
Top staffers on the Clinton campaign range from interested to respectful to wary to scared when asked about progressives’ plans to force her hand. Clinton herself, though, has been more interested in engaging with what might be called the intellectual left, listening to liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz on economic policy throughout the campaign, according to a campaign aide, and having her staff continue to meet with him. She’s also hired prominent liberal Heather Boushey as the chief economist for her transition team.
Her team has kept up other conversations as well: policy adviser Maya Harris casting a wide net among progressive policy types, Gary Gensler in touch with progressive economic groups, state campaigns director Marlon Marshall in constant contact with the more political groups.
“Trump is so bad that she could be actively running to the middle if she wanted to,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Sanders’ biggest supporter on the Hill. He now speaks as a Clinton convert. “She’s not. She hasn’t backed off that platform at all.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a vice chairman of the CPC, went so far as to argue that Clinton would be a more progressive president than Obama (Obama loyalists snort at this suggestion).
Asked about the suspicions of his fellow progressives about Clinton’s commitment to their causes, Gallego smiled.
“Unfortunately, that’s the plight of progressives,” he said. “We’re always prepared to be disappointed, no matter who it is.”