Help! My House Dem is in a Problematic Caucus

Is your House Democrat in the Blue Dog Coalition? Are they a “New Dem”? Or, worst of all, are they a so-called “Problem Solver”? These caucuses might sound good on paper, but they fill your House Democrat’s ears with mostly-wrong ideas. That means you may have to work extra hard to make sure they’re supporting progressive policies in Congress. Here’s why these caucuses can be a problem, and what you can do if your Member of Congress (MoC) belongs to one.

Why These Caucuses are an Issue

Caucuses that serve as a forum for “getting things done” and “solving problems,” of course, sound like great ideas on the surface. Look, even Mark Pocan, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was fooled by the facade. (And maybe your new member was too!) These caucuses actually work against progressive values in a few key ways:

They use what muscle they have to undermine progressive values. Most recently, the so-called “rebels” in the Problem Solvers Caucus are the key voting bloc holding out on supporting Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House when that vote takes place in January. They’re not doing it to install someone more liberal than Pelosi—they’re going for someone more conservative. Meanwhile, members of the Blue Dog Coalition continue to trumpet the Republican “fiscal responsibility” playbook. This is the argument they used to hold up passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009 (even though it was paid for). These caucuses will thwart progress on progressive priorities if left unchecked.

They’ve been pushing rules that empower Republicans. Each new Congress, the party in the majority adopts of set of rules for how the House will operate. The Problem Solvers Caucus has leveraged its support of Pelosi into changes to the rules that empower Republicans to get floor votes on their bills and amendments, and committee mark-ups on their bills. Democratic control of the House means Democrats should control the agenda—not allow Republicans to dictate what happens on the floor.

They’ve got questionable motives. The Problem Solvers Caucus is sponsored by No Labels—an organization that has courted funding from conservative ideologues like David Koch, Peter Thiel, and Paul Singer (who also funds the conservative Washington Free Beacon). No Labels also awarded its “Problem Solver” distinction to Donald Trump in January 2016—a clear indication that despite their branding, No Labels and the Problem Solvers Caucus are most interested in building up their own power and mystique. As it turns out, they haven’t actually solved any problems.

What You Can Do

First, check to see if your House Democrat is a problematic caucus member. The best way to do this is to find the “about me” or “committees and caucuses” section of their official website, and check to see if it mentions Problem Solvers, Blue Dogs, or New Dems.

If you’ve got a Democrat in one of these caucuses, it’s important not to panic. They’ve signaled a troubling inclination to cut deals with Republicans—but they haven’t voted that way yet. Ultimately, it would be great to have them drop the caucus like a bad habit. But in the short term, your most important goal is influencing how they vote.

Good news! You already know the best ways to do that. Remember, they still have the same guiding motivation as every other Member of Congress: to get re-elected by keeping their constituents happy and bad stuff out of the news.

That means you can still pressure them to vote with you, instead of with their problematic caucus, by making good asks and pressuring your MoC through local action.

Here are the tactics we recommend in the new Indivisible Guide:

  1. District office visits. Members of Congress have offices back home in their districts for a reason — to serve the constituents they represent. A district office is a good place for your group to show up, meet with staff or the MoC, and draw attention to your concerns. Read more here from the original Indivisible Guide about how to have impactful district office events.

  2. Coordinated phone calls. While showing up in person is always the best tactic, flooding an MoC’s phone lines can also have an impact. Check our online resources (we update these nearly daily!) for call scripts that your group can use, and read more here, from the original Indivisible Guide, on how to maximize your impact through phone calls.

  3. Earned media events. Your MoC’s local office is also a great location for protests with creative visuals. These are easy and appealing for reporters to cover, and they can result in news stories that pack a punch. Indivisible groups earned great coverage by holding “die-ins” to protest their MoCs’ support for TrumpCare, and “retirement parties” to signal that voting for Trump’s tax bill would end their MoCs’ political careers. Tailor your tactics to your group’s talents and interests. These types of creative, fun events are great at getting media coverage. Here’s more on how to get press coverage of your events.

  4. Town halls and public events. Town halls and public events are ideal for showing up in a group and making your voices heard. Footage of angry constituents demanding answers in person is one of the most effective ways to force attention on MoCs and hold them accountable. Demanding their attention and disrupting their preferred narrative is an effective way to draw attention to your concerns and influence their decision-making in the public eye. Read more here about showing up at public events, and more here about maximizing impact at a town hall.

  5. Statewide (or districtwide) public letters. Another way to increase the pressure is to coordinate with other Indivisible groups and jointly write a letter to your MoC, listing the co-signing groups. After submitting the letter to your MoC’s office, email it to your local media list. Letters like this are a great way to demonstrate the depth of local support for your cause. It’s something reporters can easily quote and cite in their next story about your issue. You can also try submitting your letter to the Letters to the Editor section of your local papers, inquiring whether they might run it in the letters or op-ed sections. 

  6. Letters to the editor. Letters to the editor in your local newspaper that mention your MoC by name are a great way to get their attention. MoCs and their staff members regularly review press clips that mention that MoC, including letters to the editor, meaning that your advocacy will get noticed and discussed in the office. Read here for more on how to advocate using LTEs.

  7. Op-eds. The op-ed sections of local newspapers are some of the most valuable pieces of real estate in media. MoCs regularly use local op-ed pages to write their own narratives and shape public opinion showcasing their leadership. By writing your own op-eds, you can be a part of shaping that narrative. Whether you support or oppose your MoCs, getting into the op-ed space is a great way to hold them accountable. Read more here on writing op-eds that make a difference.

Don't lose hope

Members can and do leave caucuses when they decide they’re no longer the right fit. You can use the tactics above to persuade them of that.

Indivisible’s policy team will track developments on this front, and will give a heads up to groups when problematic caucuses are interfering with our priorities. Members of these caucuses are spread out across the country, which means nearly every member of our organizing team works with at least a few groups represented by them. We can all work together to make sure they’re not standing in the way of progress.