May 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Progressives challenge Ohio candidate's credentials

Rep. Shontel Brown is seen smiling for the camera.
Rep. Shontel Brown. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Some of Rep. Shontel Brown's colleagues in the Congressional Progressive Caucus are questioning the Ohio Democrat's liberal bonafides — and whether she should have been endorsed by the group ahead of her primary on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Brown, a freshman, didn't receive unanimous support from CPC members to join its ranks back in January, Axios has learned. The revelation comes despite some in the caucus saying Brown was backed unanimously, and using that claim to defend their endorsement.

  • Critics to her left say Brown is a centrist, and some are now calling the group "PINO" — progressives in name only.
  • The Brown campaign declined comment.

Battle lines: Brown is, once again, competing Tuesday against Nina Turner — her opponent from last year's special election to replace now-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge.

Turner is a former Bernie Sanders presidential campaign co-chair and liberal Democrat who some progressives believe would be a better fit for the CPC brand.

  • When Brown applied to join the caucus in January, some of the party's top progressives made clear they didn't side with her.
  • According to an email obtained by Axios, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) voted "No" on Jan. 18 to the question: Should the CPC accept Rep. Shontel Brown’s (OH-11) application to join the Caucus?
  • Another leading progressive, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), has decided to lend an eleventh-hour endorsement to Turner, the New York Times reported Monday night.

Driving the news: The CPC endorsement has drawn backlash, confusion and even a new debate about whether the group should change its endorsement policies, Punchbowl News reported.

  • Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of the former CPC co-chairs, said Monday on MSNBC that out of their nearly 100 members, "no one" voted against endorsing Brown.
  • But that's misleading, because not all members — with Bush among those — weighed in on whether they supported a CPC endorsement, Axios was told. A Pocan spokesperson later clarified that the congressman meant none of those members who had joined the endorsement call held by CPC's affiliated PAC voted against Brown.
  • That PAC votes on whether to endorse an incumbent when they request it, a spokesperson for CPC PAC told Axios. That vote is separate from the January vote to admit a member to the caucus.
  • President Biden issued his own endorsement of Brown last week.

The backdrop: Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is the sole chair of the CPC after previously serving jointly with Pocan.

She assumed control after the caucus implemented a new structure and a series of rules changes to try to wield more power as a voting bloc by weeding out the so-called PINOs.

  • Jayapal told Punchbowl that Brown is "in good standing" with caucus, but acknowledged CPC leaders are discussing endorsement policy changes in light of their involvement in the Ohio race.
  • CPC members are required to respond to 80% of whip questions during a calendar year in order to be in good standing.
  • Turner was endorsed by Sanders and other progressives like Ocasio-Cortez during her 2021 special election but has been plagued by her past negative remarks about the president and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the popular House majority whip.

What they're saying: "[D]o we need to have some kind of a change in endorsement based on whether somebody accepts this kind of giant PAC money, whether it’s from the crypto billionaires or whether it’s from DMFI [Democratic Majority for Israel]?" Jayapal asked rhetorically about potential endorsement procedure changes.

  • "Should we have a certain period of time, whether it’s six months or a year or something, that you have to be a member of the CPC and good standing?" she said.

Go deeper: Ahead of a weekend campaigning for Brown in Ohio, Clyburn told Axios that while he thinks Brown is in good shape to beat Turner again, the dynamics make it much harder this time around.

  • "You can win the first time by luck, but the moment you get a record, it gets a little tough, because you start defending that record," Clyburn said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with clarification from Rep. Pocan's spokesperson about his comments on the CPC's endorsement call.

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