Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Congressman Bruce Braley, New Chair of The DCCC's Red To Blue Program-- Live Chat Today At Crooks and Liars


One of Blue America's earliest and most heartfelt successes came in 2006 when we helped Bruce Braley turn Iowa's first CD from red to blue. After a stellar first term, Bruce didn't need help being re-elected. His 64% win in November was the highest margin of any candidate in the state (including Senators Harkin and Obama!). His success has been especially sweet because of the way his candidacy started out. You may recall that in 2005 Rahm Emanuel was running around the country sabotaging progressives and bullying anti-war candidates. He managed to ruin Democratic chances in district after district with his wrongheaded insistence that voters backed his own pro-war position in Iraq and that progressive candidates needed to soft-peddle their opposition to Bush's (and his own) agenda. When Emanuel went to candidate Braley with that line Braley didn't buckle; he pushed back and pushed back hard. Emanuel backed down. "I wouldn't change who I am to run for office. I am running to be a strong voice for change and to speak out for people who don't have a voice in Washington," he told us at the time. "I met with Rahm several times and I convinced him that my positions are the mainstream positions in this district. He listened and he understood."

After his initial win, Congressman Braley caught our attention in 2007 when he took the lead in questioning Bush Regime hack/GSA head Lurita Doan and exposed the Regime's illegal use of government resources to target Democrats. (There's a video at the link.) Since then he's established a solidly progressive voting record in the House and has become a leader at the DCCC. Last cycle he was one of 3 co-chairs of the Red to Blue Program. In the 2010 cycle he is the sole Red to Blue Chair.

Before I ask you to surf over to the comments section at Crooks and Liars for a live chat with Rep Braley (at 10am, PT/1pm ET), I want to go over some of the points the congressman made when we spoke on the phone yesterday. After I congratulated him on the personal role he played in helping elect one of this year's Blue America stars, Martin Heinrich (D-NM), I asked him what important lesson he's learned that he would want to share with Democrats just getting into Congress.
There are times when you are going to have strong disagreements within the leadership of your own party. Some new members can be intimidated by the environment but I've learned that speaking out and standing on my principles-- even though it may be contrary to the wishes of Leadership-- helps to gain additional respect for my viewpoints; in some cases it's prompted them to do things they didn't originally plan to do.

Example: I was outraged on Christmas Eve in 2007 when I heard that President Bush had vetoed the Defense Authorization Bill solely because it was going to provide compensation out of Iraqi assets to tortured POWs and human shields. And because of my strong opposition to torture and strong support for Justice, I immediately called my staff-- on Christmas Eve-- and said I want us to work on a letter going out to Leadership expressing my strong disagreement with the president's veto and my desire that our party stand up to him.

When we got back we had our weekly meeting, the freshman class, with the Speaker and other caucus leaders and she explained why the chairman of the Armed Services Committee was going to recommend passing a new bill without that provision in it and how upset she was by that but that there were no options available to us at that time. She invited me to address my concerns and I just unloaded on them. I said there is no better cause for Democrats to rally behind than standing up to this president and this veto and his promotion of torture; this is the type of example that cuts across the political spectrum. When U.S. prisoners of war have been brutally tortured by foreign regimes, that's something this party needs to stand up for. As a result of that conversation they agreed to allow me to run that as a stand alone bill and I worked all year long to get that to the floor and at the last minute it did get to the floor and passed unanimously in the House. The president had lobbied against the bill all weekend long; not one Republican voted against it. I've been working with Senators Menendez and Lautenberg to get it passed in the Senate, where it never came out of committee.

Back to his new job as Red to Blue chair, I asked about the rumors that the DCCC would be devoting virtually all their resources to incumbent retention this cycle and ignoring capturing new seats. "I can assure you that's not going to happen," he answered. He's gung-ho to leave no stone unturned in expanding the Democratic majority in the House.
We'll look at how Obama performed in the district. We'll look at the candidates we'll be able to recruit and we'll look at what type of support those candidates have been able to generate in the past. Sometimes districts look good on paper but... well, you have to have the right candidate. Next week we're going to sit down and look at all the districts in play and try to put together a priority list for the 2010 Red to Blue Program... The challenge for us always is trying to weigh all of the objective data and balance that with subjective input we get and try to make informed decisions that are going to help us expand our majority. Sometimes it's more of an art than a science and that's why I would welcome input from the netroots early on and have that as part of an ongoing conversation as we move forward.

I want to emphasize one more of the exchanges we had in our phone conversation. When I recounted hard feelings in the netroots about how much money the DCCC spent on conservative Democrats like Bobby Bright and Parker Griffith, both of Alabama, who have already started crossing the aisle and voting with the Republicans on issues as basic as equality for women in the workplace, this was Rep. Braley's response:
I can't dispute that characterization. It's extremely frustrating to me. It doesn't seem like one of those defining issues that is going to be used against you to paint you as a tool of the Speaker, which is usually what happens in these races in the Deep South. It does seem like this is an issue that is a defining issue for Democratic voters and I would hope that Democrats in those districts in Alabama and around the country would make their feelings known to help educate these new members to the fact that just because you have received support in the past, to pick up an open seat, does not mean that you can ignore what your party stands for when it comes to basic tenets.

Please consider coming over to Crooks and Liars, again 10am, PT, and meeting Rep. Braley and letting him know what you expect from the DCCC and from our Democratic members in the House.

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