Congressman Dan Lipinski is a Democrat. In 2016, his Illinois district voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 15 points. Four years earlier, it backed Obama by 12.
But you wouldn’t know any of those things from his voting record. Despite hailing from a comfortably blue district, in a deep blue state, Lipinski voted against the Affordable Care Act, the DREAM Act, legislation protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination, and for a nationwide, 20-week abortion ban.
Now, progressives are on the brink of voting him out of office.
To this point, the “resistance” movement has focused its fire on Republicans. But like the conservative activists who mobilized against Obama, liberals have decided to set aside their House-taking project long enough to do a bit of house-cleaning. And few Democrats offer the left a better — and safer — opportunity to demonstrate the risks of betraying the progressive cause than Lipinski. Thus, his primary challenger Marie Newman, a businesswoman and political neophyte, has won the endorsements of NARAL, moveon.org, Democracy for America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Human Rights Campaign, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand — and, as of this week, two of Lipinski’s Illinois colleagues. As Politico reports:
When two veteran members of Congress kicked one of their own Democratic colleagues to the curb on Wednesday, even they had to admit it was an unprecedented act.
By condemning Rep. Dan Lipinski and publicly endorsing his little-known primary opponent, Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky did the unthinkable, plunging a knife into the back of a neighboring Chicago-area congressman whom they’d served with in Congress for over a decade.
“It’s not easy to endorse a challenger for a colleague in the House of Representatives. Especially when that colleague is a member of your own party,” Gutierrez said at a news conference in Washington.
But, he said: “This is a very special, and, I think, dangerous time in the United States of America.”
… “There’s an effort that is very detrimental to the Democratic Party, in that there’s the Tea Party of the Left that some people said they wanted to create. That’s bad for the party. That’s not going to be helpful in growing our numbers,” said Lipinski, who noted that the Tea Party movement was responsible for Trump’s ascendance. “I think we have to acknowledge that the way to get back into the majority into the Congress and pick up seats is to make sure we are a big-tent party and reaching out to people are moderate and not just push to the left.”
There are a few problems with Lipinski’s argument. Most obviously, the tea party did not exactly prevent the GOP from regaining House and Senate majorities in 2010 and 2014, respectively — and, according to Lipinski, the movement was directly responsible for the party winning the White House in 2016. Given that the consequence of all these elections has been enormous ideological victories for the tea party — on the state and federal levels — it is hard to understand why the resistance is supposed to be troubled by the congressman drawing a tactical analogy between the two movements.
More critically, Lipinski hasn’t comported himself as a “moderate” Democrat, so much as a conservative one. It’s true that he has been a strong supporter of labor. And if he survives his primary, it will be on the strength of the AFL-CIO’s unrelenting support. But the representative did not vote against a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented; he voted against one for Dreamers. He didn’t vote against a public option; he voted against Obamacare. He didn’t vote against repealing the Hyde Amendment; he voted for a 20-week abortion ban. These positions didn’t just put him to the right of his district, or the median Democrat, but to that of many in the Republican Party.
Lipinski did not compete in a Democratic primary before becoming the representative of Illinois’s Third District. His father, the area’s longtime Democratic congressman, won renomination to his seat in 2004 — and then gifted it to his son as part of back-room deal. Since then, Lipinski has coasted on the strength of incumbency and the prestige of his last name. The latter is still, apparently, among the strongest arguments in his favor:
Wednesday’s move by Schakowsky and Gutierrez put them at odds with a more pragmatic faction of Chicago Democrats — old guard Democrats who remain loyal to Lipinski’s father, former Congressman Bill Lipinski, and would prefer to leave his son be.
Sure, they argue, Lipinski takes some conservative votes and may even be out of step with his district, but “he has a hell of a name,” said one Democratic operative.
The Newman campaign claims to have an internal poll that puts it ahead of Lipinski by five points. It’s quite possible that endorsements from Schakowsky and Gutierrez could put her over the top. But even if they don’t, taking the fight inside Team Blue’s tent may have already produced productive results for progressives: Since Newman launched her candidacy, Lipinski has had a change of heart on providing a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.