The DCCC Blacklist Is No More

Cori Bush speaks during a canvassing event on November 1, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Progressives, rejoice: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s much-hated vendor blacklist is now officially a relic of the past. Representative Sean Maloney, who recently replaced Representative Cheri Bustos as chair of the DCCC, reversed the policy on Tuesday morning, Politico reports. Previously, the party would place vendors who worked for progressive primary challengers on a formal blacklist, which prevented them from working for other Democrats.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told Politico that the reversal is “an enormous win” for left-wing candidates. The blacklist had once been a serious obstacle for primary challengers seeking to oust moderate or conservative Democratic incumbents. In 2019, Democratic consultant Monica Klein wrote in a piece for the Intercept that hours after the DCCC first announced the policy, a potential client “told me that two consultants dropped out that morning — and now the candidate may not run at all.”

The controversial policy aligned with an older party strategy: Protect the incumbent at all costs. But as the nation’s demographics changed, and the political priorities of the Democratic base drifted leftward, the DCCC policy didn’t always make much sense. Consider the saga of erstwhile Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski: One of two remaining anti-abortion Democrats in Congress, Lipinski represented a blue, suburban district. Though he hardly occupied a swing seat, the party still worked hard to head off a progressive primary challenge from Marie Newman. That strategy worked in 2018, and Lipinski hung onto his seat.

A year later, Lipinski looked a bit less secure. Despite the blacklist, a number of major progressive and pro-choice groups backed Newman’s second primary challenge — and this time, she won. She now represents the district in Congress, proof that a pro-choice woman could have won in Lipinski’s Chicago-area stomping grounds. In Texas the same year, Jessica Cisneros did secure vendors and major endorsements when she challenged anti-abortion Democrat Henry Cuellar from the left. Cisneros lost, narrowly; if she chooses to run again, the absence of a blacklist could make a major difference.

Beyond the electoral consequences for progressives, the existence of a vendor blacklist also signalled open warfare between the party’s center and left-wing factions. Former insurgents like Ocasio-Cortez were permanent threats, and outsiders; the blacklist was meant to make sure that people like her would not win future elections. Maloney’s decision to reverse the policy doesn’t quite bring peace to his fractious party, but it does smooth things over. It’s even a bit of a concession. The blacklist didn’t keep Marie Newman out of office. It didn’t keep out Cori Bush, either, when she won her second primary challenge against Lacy Clay in Missouri.

A unified party will also be key to the success of President Biden’s agenda. Though he’s no socialist, his platform did incorporate some major progressive priorities. And right now, moderates, not progressives, are the thorns in Biden’s side. Moderates wasted an opportunity to pass a $15 minimum wage as part of the American Rescue Plan, a measure supported by the Biden White House. They could block other reforms that Biden has identified as priorities – like the PRO Act, which would expand collective bargaining rights, or the addition of a public option to the American healthcare system. The end of the DCCC’s blacklist recognizes something progressives have argued for years. They aren’t the real threats to the party’s future.

The DCCC Blacklist Is No More