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Progressive Democrats Test-drive New Hardball Tactics




Progressive Democrats have never been shy about fighting for what they want.

But their aggressive tactics in the recent fight over a massive social safety-net package surprised many in their own party, raising questions about whether the tougher stance was an anomaly or a sign of battles to come.

Emboldened by Democrats’ narrow control of the House and Senate, the 95-member Congressional Progressive Caucus for nearly two months delayed passage of a bipartisan $1-trillion infrastructure bill — not because they opposed it, but to use as leverage in negotiations with moderates over a separate, larger spending package to address healthcare, childcare and climate change.

In the process, they repeatedly stalled President Biden’s legislative agenda and defied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who wanted to see the infrastructure bill pass in September.

This month, most progressives backed down and supported passage of the infrastructure bill, even though negotiations over the safety-net bill continue. Biden signed the infrastructure bill into law Monday.

But the unusually bitter battle illustrated both the rising power of progressives in the Democratic Party and their growing friction with moderates.

Some progressive lawmakers argued their hardball tactics were necessary to keep Biden’s legislative agenda on track, and ensure it did not fade away once the infrastructure bill passed. They view the fight as more of a one-time occurrence rather than a template for future negotiations.

“It’s a very unique situation,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said in an interview. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to redo this.”

But progressive allies on the outside say they hope the caucus will continue to flex its muscle in ways it hasn’t in the past.

“I certainly think it can be sustained,” said Andrew O’Neill, senior economic justice policy manager at Indivisible Project. “This is much more analogous to a muscle that you work out and strengthen and then use more, rather than some sort of limited political capital that you just use and then it’s all gone.”

Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the liberal outside group Our Revolution, said that progressives’ ability to hold together as a voting bloc for as long as they did was a signal to moderates that “there’s a new day in Washington,” with progressives emerging as a “much more powerful and assertive” group.

“We had to play legislative hardball to get taken seriously,” Geevarghese added. “It’s a numbers game, and we’ve got to elect more people who are willing to stand up. But look, I think there’s a playbook here that works and can work incredibly well if we have more progressive Democrats in the ranks.”

Moderates warn such a strategy may backfire for progressives, and the Democratic Party, in the long term.

Rep. Josh Harder (D-Turlock), a vulnerable moderate who represents a swing district, questioned the wisdom of opposing one bill to facilitate passage of a separate measure.

“I think that the best way, personally, to legislate is to vote based on the merits of the legislation that you have to consider,” he said. “And I think what frustrated me about the last fight is that I didn’t hear any folks that have a problem with the infrastructure bill that we helped put together. I don’t think it’s a strong legislative tactic to oppose one piece of legislation because you want something totally unrelated somewhere else.”

Many congressional Democrats expected progressives to fall in line much sooner than they did in the fight over the social safety-net package.

Progressive Caucus leaders said roughly half of their members were firmly opposed to a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill without legislative text on a broader social spending and climate change bill that could pass the chamber alongside the bipartisan measure, more than enough objections to sink the legislation on the floor.

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said it was her members’ determination that made all the difference in standing up to pressure from party leaders and moderates.

“Most of our members have stayed with not getting out in front of the caucus,” Jayapal (D-Wash.) told CNN earlier this month. “It wasn’t like we just had a few people that weren’t going to vote for the infrastructure bill. We had between 30 and 60 members of our caucus who were not going to vote for the infrastructure bill alone. So my job is: When we say yes, we say yes. When we say no, we say no. And people should learn that — that I don’t say that unless I know I have the votes.”

By Nov. 5 — after the Congressional Black Caucus announced an agreement with leadership to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill and a procedural vote for the safety-net package, dubbed Build Back Better, later that day — progressives began to soften their position.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine), deputy chair of the Progressive Caucus, said the progressives’ strategy had run its course.

“We wanted the Senate to either pass Build Back Better first, then send it over to [the House], or at least agree that the Build Back Better Act the House passed would have their support when it got to the Senate,” Porter said. “And we held out for that, and we pushed for that and pushed for that. I think, ultimately, the judgment was that there was no more path to do that.”

Pressure from Democratic leaders was also building. Biden phoned into a Progressive Caucus meeting that afternoon and made the case that House Democrats needed to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill that day, prompting a group of progressives — including Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-San Diego), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) — to stand up and tell their colleagues that it was time to get to yes.

“Biden was absolutely critical,” said one member of the caucus who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the private meeting. “I think when the president called in, and when the president said, ‘Maybe we just can’t do any of this then,’ that’s, I think, when people were like hold on, no, we’ve got to get something done.”

Even so, in the end, six House progressives voted against the infrastructure bill, in part because the safety-net package had not been finalized. That would have been enough to block the infrastructure bill had 13 House Republicans not voted in favor of it.

Jayapal supported the Nov. 5. vote, but she led the push for progressives to resist compromises until the very end, according to the caucus member who requested anonymity. She initially rejected Biden’s Nov. 5 plea for unity. But as members’ stance began to weaken and “the tide started to turn,” according to the member, Jayapal cut a deal.

In return for progressives’ votes on infrastructure, moderates agreed to issue a general statement of support for the safety-net bill. The House is expected to pass a version of the safety-net bill this week and send it to the Senate, where changes are expected.

Some critics of progressives’ strategy compared it to actions more likely to come out of the GOP’s conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose disciplined members have never hesitated to obstruct or even topple Republican leaders who did not embrace their agenda.

Progressives reject such comparisons, saying that unlike many conservatives, liberals tend to believe in the power of government to bring about positive change, and that shared belief will prevent Democrats from fracturing as Republicans have.

“Here’s the thing about progressives: They actually care about people’s lives,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) said. “And this [Build Back Better] bill has the promise of transforming people’s lives in a really good way, if we get it right. So that’s holding us together. That’s the glue.”

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Why Mexico’s President Is Promoting a Recall Against Himself




Standing before hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters in downtown Mexico City’s central square, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saved his most striking comment for the end of his speech.

He urged the Mexicans packed into the Zócalo to participate in an April referendum to decide whether they want to boot him from office more than two years early.

“None of, ‘They chose me for six years and I can do whatever I want,’” López Obrador said at the rally Wednesday to mark his midterm. “If one who governs is not up to the task and obeying the people, revoke their mandate and out!”

The president, 68, likely believes he has nothing to worry about.

Recent polls show that about two-thirds of the public approve of his performance since taking office in 2018 on a platform that promised a radical transformation of Mexican society to combat corruption and inequality and to roll back free-market economic policies.

Families and marching bands making their way to the Zócalo passed vendors hawking gray-haired López Obrador dolls and posters with the hashtag #QueSigaAMLO, or “may AMLO continue,” referring to the president by his initials. Many said they view a referendum, authorized by a 2019 constitutional reform spearheaded by the president, as proof of his honest character when compared to decades of presidents accused of corruption.

“AMLO is the first president that dares to put himself to the test before the people,” said Debanhi Andrea Garcia, 22, who drove 14 hours from the state of Nuevo León with her boyfriend. “Because he’s like that, we support him.”

Supporters of López Obrador hold banners in support of the president at Mexico City’s Zócalo.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

Mexicans have until Dec. 25 to sign a petition supporting the referendum, which can move forward only with the signatures of at least 3% of eligible voters, among other caveats.

So far, the initiative has received more than 703,000 signatures from Mexicans who have valid voting credentials, or 25% of the required total, according to the National Electoral Institute, an independent agency overseeing the process. (That tally includes signatures that will be discarded because they are duplicates or have other irregularities.)

Officially called the “revocation of mandate,” the measure follows other efforts by the president to increase citizen engagement in public policy. López Obrador has also backed referendums to decide whether former Mexican presidents should be prosecuted for alleged crimes, on the construction of a new airport near Mexico City and on the development of a tourism train line that would run through the Yucatan Peninsula.

“He does conceive his power as being a function of people reiterating their support actively,” said Francisco González, a professor of Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University. “He wants it officially confirmed to give him that comfort of being the popular leader who is doing the right thing for Mexico.”

Since taking office, López Obrador has also expanded social welfare programs while introducing sharp austerity measures. He has halted renewable energy projects, promoted a constitutional reform to increase the country’s control of the electricity market, and given more power to the military — putting it in charge of projects such as the tourism train.

President López Obrador gives an address to mark the midpoint of his term.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

His critics say that he hasn’t done enough to reduce high levels of homicides, including many killings of women and attacks against journalists and public officials. Dozens of candidates across the country were assassinated ahead of last spring’s midterm elections for governorships and legislative and mayoral seats.

Critics also are concerned about López Obrador’s attacks against democratic agencies that could check his power, notably the National Electoral Institute. He has repeatedly disparaged the independent agency, which last May sanctioned him for making statements in at least 29 news conferences that it said could be considered government propaganda that could influence the midterm elections. In Mexico, such statements by public officials are generally barred during the election season.

But the president’s vision of transformational change continues to resonate among many voters who view him as a paternal figure. López Obrador is in constant dialogue with his electorate, holding press conferences every morning that last hours.

“The figure he has constructed of an honest man, an honorable man, an incorruptible man — that helps him in a society that is used to seeing terribly corrupt politicians,” said René Torres-Ruiz, a political scientist at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

Even if enough signatures are gathered, hurdles to a referendum remain. The National Electoral Institute’s members have said that the agency doesn’t have the budget to carry out the vote and at least 40% of eligible voters must participate for the referendum to be binding. The referendum on former presidents last August fell far short of the 40% voting figure.

Ariadna Gomez, left, and another volunteer collect signatures for a referendum on whether Mexico’s president should continue.

(Leila Miller / Los Angeles Times)

Stephanie Brewer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America, said that winning a referendum would increase López Obrador’s perception that he could move forward freely with his agenda.

“What he wants is to come out of the vote, supposing there is one, politically strengthened with this renewed and amplified popular mandate,” she said.

Opposition parties have accused the president’s supporters of twisting the stated purpose of the referendum into a tool to promote López Obrador’s agenda. The 2019 reform called for a referendum to “revoke” a president’s mandate rather than “ratify” it and a complaint before the National Electoral Institute by the National Action Party referenced how volunteers have registered voters next to posters that advertise the referendum as a means of promoting the president rather than recalling him from office.

Luis Cházaro, a congressman from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told The Times that the referendum “has been transformed into a promotional tool for the party.” He does not plan to participate.

In Coyoacán, a cobblestoned neighborhood in Mexico City known for Frida Kahlo’s home, volunteers last Sunday gathered signatures at a plaza in front of posters of the president that said “may AMLO continue.”

Ariana Garcia, a 24-year-old volunteer, said she uses the term “ratification” for people she senses like the president and “revocation” for those she thinks oppose him.

“People tell you, ‘But I don’t want my president to leave,’ so we tell them, ‘OK, then in this case you can ratify your support for the president,’” she said.

A supporter of López Obrador listens to his speech at a rally to commemorate the president’s midterm.

(Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

Roberto Garcia, a systems engineer in Mexico City, said that he would vote against the president, uncomfortable that the federal government recently issued a decree that requires federal agencies to automatically approve infrastructure projects that are deemed to be of interest to the public or national security. He also sees the referendum as “a type of manipulation,” suspicious of why the president has contradicted the National Electoral Institute, saying it has enough funding to hold a vote he himself has fought for.

María de los Angeles Resendiz, a grandmother of 10 from the state of Mexico, will support López Obrador without hesitation.

Resendiz, 62, watches the president’s 7 a.m. news conferences each day with her husband while preparing breakfast and washing dishes. If she needs to skip one, she’ll track it down later on YouTube. She also listens to summaries in case she’s missed something.

Before López Obrador took power, Resendiz tried to stay as far away from politics as she could. She became disillusioned when she was a little girl after the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which soldiers killed as many as 300 people at a student protest in Mexico City.

She called López Obrador a “simple” man who has won her confidence with his anti-corruption platform. She eagerly described how his government has set money aside for youth job training and expanded welfare payments to the elderly.

“He’s given us back our dignity,” she said. “I am proud to say that I am Mexican and that he is my president.”

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Op-Ed: the U.S. Shouldn’t Ignore Mexico’s Ongoing Human Rights Catastrophe



On Dec. 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reached the halfway point of his six-year term. Since his election in 2018, López Obrador has not only failed to improve the country’s disastrous human rights record, he has worked to undo many of the hard-fought gains in transparency and the rule of law that rights groups, activists and campaigners have achieved since the end of one-party rule in Mexico in 2000.

The United States has been noticeably silent regarding the Mexican president’s accelerating attacks on democracy. President Biden has instead chosen to focus on enlisting López Obrador to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

López Obrador, a prominent anti-establishment figure in Mexican politics for decades, is the kind of populist leader that has become increasingly common in Latin America. He was democratically elected in a landslide on a promise to “transform” Mexico by taking back control of the country from the elites whose policies he blamed for economic inequality, social breakdown and growing violence.

López Obrador inherited a human rights catastrophe. When he came to office in 2018, 12 years of a military-led drug war had led to horrific abuses. Homicides hit staggering numbers. Thousands of people disappeared every year. But he has not addressed these problems. Soldiers continue to kill civilians. Homicides remain at historically high rates. And according to the government’s figures, more than 25,000 people have gone missing on his watch.

Even so, López Obrador has remained immensely popular with his base. He appears to believe that his continued popular support gives him the moral authority to concentrate as much power as possible in his own hands and to attempt to control every part of the state to bring about his promised transformation.

He labels anyone who criticizes him or stands in his way as a “neoliberal” or “conservative,” nebulous groups of supposed adversaries whom he describes as corrupt and morally bankrupt. Leveling this charge allows him to avoid responding to genuine concerns raised by journalists who question him, women’s rights campaigners upset at his lack of action on gender-based violence, Indigenous communities who oppose his megaprojects, environmentalists who disagree with his coal and oil-focused energy policy, and press freedom campaigners concerned about his government’s harassment of journalists, among others.

He has eliminated or proposed eliminating many government agencies not under his direct control, including the independent energy and telecommunications regulators, funds for protecting journalists and responding to climate change and natural disasters, the independent transparency agency and the independent electoral authority. He recently decreed that his government’s construction and infrastructure projects would be automatically granted permits without any review and that as matters of “national security,” would be exempted from transparency rules.

He has also gone after the judicial system, which has delayed or blocked a number of his projects and proposals as abusive or unconstitutional. His efforts to intimidate the judiciary have grown brazen. López Obrador has publicly singled out those whose rulings he dislikes and called for a judge who ruled against him to be investigated.

In April, his coalition in Congress passed a law — since overturned — to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice who has ruled in favor of the president. And in August, López Obrador held a referendum on whether the government should put five previous presidents on trial for alleged crimes such as “neoliberalism” and the “privatization of public goods.”

The U.S. policy of ignoring López Obrador’s attacks on the rule of law came into stark relief in June, when Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico and met with him. At the end of the trip, a journalist asked the vice president if the United States was concerned about López Obrador’s hostile attitude toward the media and civil society.

Harris initially responded that she had urged the Mexican president to respect the independence of the judicial system, the press and civil society. However, hours later, her spokesperson issued a correction to the Spanish wire service EFE, saying the vice president had been confused; she and the Mexican president had only discussed immigration and the economy, nothing else.

López Obrador will be in office for another three years. His coalition still controls both houses of Congress and he has made it clear that he is willing to amend the constitution if necessary to remove obstacles to achieving his goals. Unless the circumstances change, there are no signs he intends to alter his course.

José Miguel Vivanco is Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Tyler Mattiace is a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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Photos: As Roe Vs. Wade Challenged, Demonstrators Gather Outside Supreme Court



Juanito Estevez, of Freeport, N.Y., holds a cross as he and abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

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