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DSA’s existential crisis

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Oct 18, 2023 View in browser

By Catherine Kim

An attendee at an Iowa caucus watch party in 2020 wears a Democratic Socialists of America jacket. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

FAULT LINES — Just as the Democratic Socialists of America finally got a toehold in electoral politics, the organization is at risk of losing it.

Israel’s war with Hamas has fractured the group, threatening its recent gains and its standing as a mainstream political voice.

The problem began the day after Hamas killed hundreds of Israelis in its first wave of attacks, when DSA’s New York chapter endorsed a pro-Palestine rally that provoked the ire of lawmakers, including some who had been among the group’s closest allies. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a leading voice of the organization, condemned the rally for expressing “bigotry and callousness.” Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.) renounced his membership (though his local DSA chapter had already called for his expulsion), citing the "hate-filled and antisemitic rally in New York City.” In Los Angeles, City Councilmember Nithya Raman, who was endorsed by DSA just a month ago for her re-election campaign, disavowed the group for putting out a national statement that was “unacceptably devoid of empathy.”

While these lawmakers criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and the resulting deaths of Palestinian civilians, they expressed remorse for the death of innocent Israelis as well — a response more in line with the party establishment’s position. The DSA’s grassroots members, however, refused to condemn Hamas’ attacks, describing them as an inevitable product of the fight for liberation. That characterization alienates mainstream Democrats who have been shocked by the brutal violence against Israeli civilians, even if they stand for Palestinian statehood like many other DSA members.

Infighting within the DSA — which now has nearly 100,000 members — has been common as the group grew into a force in Democratic Party politics in the wake of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. Now, however, the divisions are especially acute as DSA’s elected members distance themselves from the vocal grassroots minority that is far more radical and less willing to compromise than the officeholders, who understand the need to build coalitions in order to have influence.

Of course, the divide doesn’t fall neatly along grassroots vs. officeholder fault lines — members of the progressive Squad in Congress have taken different tacks on the issue as well. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.), in particular, have taken flak from Republicans in Washington for their responses calling out Israeli occupation of Palestine in the wake of the Hamas attacks, while Ocasio-Cortez stuck to a more measured response. It’s worth noting that Sanders, perhaps the country’s most prominent democratic socialist, immediately condemned the Hamas attacks along with most congressional lawmakers.

DSA’s rhetoric has provided fodder for Republicans who are already using its response to the attacks as an opportunity to paint the Democratic Party as a group of left-wing extremists. In New York, Republican state senators have called for their colleagues with DSA memberships to be stripped of their committee and leadership posts.

Until fairly recently, Democratic Socialists were largely without a voice in the halls of power and forced to watch from the sidelines. The war between Israel and Gaza might end up returning them to that status.

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What'd I Miss?

— Senate votes to overturn CFPB small business rule as Biden threatens veto: The Senate today voted to overturn a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule requiring lenders to report demographic data on small-business loan recipients, defying a White House veto threat. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who sponsored the bill to invalidate the measure under the Congressional Review Act, called the regulation “intrusive” in a floor speech before the Senate voted 53-44 to scrap it. The House must still act on the resolution. Supporters of the rule say it will help ensure that lenders distribute loans equitably to underrepresented borrowers.

— U.S. military shoots down drones headed toward troops in Iraq: The U.S. military intercepted multiple aerial drones targeting its troops stationed in Iraq early today, the Pentagon announced, as U.S. officials are on heightened alert for potential attacks on American forces in the Middle East amid an escalating conflict. U.S. forces “defended against” three drones in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are stationed, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command. Two were in the west, threatening troops at Al Asad air base, and one was in the north of the country, said a U.S. official, who was granted anonymity to discuss information beyond the official statement.

As Jordan wobbles, House GOP eyes potential next speaker candidates: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is vowing to keep fighting for the speakership despite losing ground on Tuesday’s second failed ballot. Other House Republicans, sensing his bid is doomed, are already preparing for his withdrawal. As the Ohio Republican weighs whether to convene the GOP conference in private to discuss a path forward, at least one colleague — Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) — is already beginning to place calls to build support if the Judiciary chair drops out, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter.

Nightly Road to 2024

CALENDAR CHAOS — Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives passed another bill today to give an earlier date for its 2024 presidential primary, reports the Associated Press, an effort that has become drawn out and politically charged in a battleground state still weathering former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about a stolen 2020 election.

The bill would move up the date by one week, from April 23 to April 16, and passed with a slim margin of 104-99. However, it faces an uncertain future. The state Senate’s Republican majority has insisted that the date be moved up by five weeks to March 19. Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration this week recommended that lawmakers move it to April 9 as the date that “presents the fewest conflicts among potential primary dates.”

DIRE STRAITS — At a town hall-style event hosted by the right-wing broadcaster Newsmax on Tuesday, Mike Pence was asked questions about Israel, Ukraine and the disarray among House Republicans — all of which he answered in familiar ways.

But he was not asked about the one subject that may now matter more than any of his policy views: his campaign’s perilous financial state, reports the New York Times.

A campaign finance report that Mr. Pence filed over the weekend painted a dire picture. The former vice president had just $1.2 million in his campaign account, a skimpier reserve than any of the six Republican rivals he shared a debate stage with last month.


A Palestinian flag hangs on a building as Hezbollah supporters wave Hezbollah flags and chant slogans during a protest in solidarity with the Palestinian people in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon today. | Hassan Ammar/AP Photo

COORDINATED ATTACKS — Iran-backed militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah are closely coordinating their next steps in fighting against Israel, a senior Hamas representative in Lebanon told POLITICO’s Jamie Dettmer, just hours after Tehran warned of “preemptive action” against Israel.

Ahmed Abdul-Hadi, the head of Hamas’ political bureau in Beirut, insisted Gaza-based Hamas had not given its ally Hezbollah any advance notice of its attacks against Israel on October 7, which killed more than 1,400 people. Despite this, however, he described a continual cooperation between the two groups, stressing Hezbollah was now “geared for a major war” against Israel in the north, while Hamas would burst Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “dream” of driving it out of Gaza.

The remarks will heighten fears the conflict in the Middle East could be about to spill onto two fronts and engulf Lebanon, particularly if Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza, where its bombardments have already killed more than 2,700 people, and Tehran commits its fellow-Shiite Hezbollah proxies into all-out war.

“We have very strong relations with Hezbollah. We were cooperating with Hezbollah before the attack on Israel and after and now we are in full cooperation,” Abdul-Hadi said in an interview in his office in the Mar Elias refugee camp in Beirut, where he was born 55 years ago.

Abdul-Hadi identified an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza as one of the key triggers that could bring Hezbollah fully into the conflict. “Hezbollah will pay no attention to threats from anyone against it entering the war; it will ignore warnings to stay out of it. The timing of when Hezbollah wants to enter the war or not will relate to Israeli escalation and incidents on the ground, and especially if Israel tries to enter Gaza on the ground,” he said.


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Nightly Number

$100 million

The amount of money that the U.S. will send in aid for humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, President Joe Biden said today.


HEATING SYSTEMS — There’s a new kind of fish that’s popping up in the Arctic — the chum salmon, which is famous for launching itself upriver and then procreating before dying. Rivers in the arctic are now hospitable for these salmon as the environments are “greening,” with more trees and shrubs finding a foothold along Arctic rivers. These salmon will change the ecosystem and might actually help encourage the proliferation of native fish by providing them food. But as the Arctic warms dramatically quickly — up to four times more quickly than the rest of the world — a climate feedback loop can begin, as the snow can’t find any place to go and as glaciers melt. Matt Simon reports for WIRED.

Parting Image

On this date in 1989: Rescue dogs are brought into position to begin searches of destroyed houses in the Marina District of San Francisco after a strong earthquake caused widespread damage, killing 63 and injuring thousands more. | Eric Risberg/AP Photo

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DSA’s existential crisis


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