CNN: Progressives hope for more power in narrowly divided Congress
House progressives are poised to wield their growing influence in the new Congress as the Democratic Party settles in to unified control of Washington for the first time in a decade.
"The squad" has returned to Capitol Hill after Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib beat back primary challenges, and their ranks have been bolstered by newly-elected progressive Democrats who quickly established national profiles, like Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman.
Democrats now control the White House and hold majorities -- though narrow -- in the Senate and the House, where close partisan splits mean the votes of even a relatively small bloc of members will carry significant weight.
That new dynamic has emboldened progressives and could increase tensions in a caucus that, over the past two years, has seen a spate of internal clashes, ideological differences and tactical disagreements. During the Trump administration, though, the debates were largely symbolic. But with President Joe Biden in office, the squabbles of the past few years are no longer academic -- Democrats in the House now possess a powerful hand in shaping the agenda in Washington. And progressives could, if they remain unified, match the influence of the powerful moderate bloc as big ticket legislation winds its way through Congress.
The dynamic has shifted further over the past couple weeks, as the Democratic sweep in Georgia's Senate runoffs flipped the upper chamber and created a new sense of opportunity in the House. Bills that would have been dead on arrival in the Senate, squashed by Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, the former majority leader, will now be delivered to the more welcoming hands of his successor, Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat. And with Biden promising to come out of the gate with a broad and ambitious Covid relief package, which includes longtime progressive priorities like raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, many on the left believe the hour for bold action has arrived.
"I'm optimistic that we have the makings of an FDR moment with a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House," Rep. Ritchie Torres, a progressive freshman from New York, said in an interview. "We have a once in a century opportunity to govern as boldly in the 21st century as FDR did in the 20th century."
But the razor-thin Senate majority and House Democratic losses in 2020 mean that party leaders will also need to cater to moderate and conservative members. In the Senate, most legislation will require Republican support to clear a 60-vote threshold. Some fiscal items can pass with a simple majority, but even then the margin for error will be narrow since every member of the Democratic caucus will effectively hold a veto on any party-line vote (There will be a 50-50 partisan split in the chamber with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote).
Biden, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to carefully balance competing interests within the party to successfully pass legislation. Newly empowered progressives will have to decide what fights they are willing to pick and, when the time comes, whether they can forge a unity that has often eluded them in the past.