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Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements

With the Iowa caucuses around the corner, progressive presidential hopefuls Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) aren’t just clashing on the campaign trail — they’re also scrapping for endorsements on Capitol Hill.

House Democrats in the Congressional Progressive Caucus said the race for presidential endorsements has kicked into high gear in the closing weeks before the Feb. 4 Iowa caucuses.

Many downplay the significance of political endorsements, but campaigns see them as a way to show momentum and boost fundraising as the first voters in the nation prepare to head to the polls.

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“It’s crunch time,” said one undecided progressive freshman Democrat, who was heavily lobbied by both the Sanders and Warren camps this past week. “I’ve heard more about endorsing presidential candidates in the last three days than I’ve heard in the last three months.” 

Just as polls show progressive voters are divided between Sanders and Warren, so is the nearly 100-member Progressive Caucus. Both progressive rock stars have attracted high-profile endorsements in the CPC in recent days and weeks. 

Warren’s endorsements include Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), brother of Julián Castro who backed Warren after dropping out of the presidential race this month; Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), a member of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) leadership team; several female freshman lawmakers; and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a former Progressive Caucus co-chairman who now heads the Natural Resources Committee. 

Liberal Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional law professor who’s emerged as a leading critic of President Trump’s legal woes, told The Hill he’ll formally endorse Warren in the coming days.

“She has an insightful structural critique of what’s gone wrong in the economy and she speaks in the best traditions of progressive liberal reformers on how to make it better,” Raskin said in an interview. “She is adamant that markets in America have to work for the people and she is someone who can actually unify all of the divergent elements of the party.”

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But Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who helped found the Progressive Caucus in 1991, has landed endorsements from nearly all of the current CPC leadership team. This week, Co-Chairman Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) threw his support behind Sanders, declaring the senator’s “authenticity, honesty, and movement for equality is the antidote our nation needs now.” Meanwhile, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), CPC’s first vice chairman, has been serving as co-chairman of Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign and his top surrogate on Capitol Hill.

Three members of “the squad” — the four freshman women of color — also are on Team Bernie: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is the chief whip or vote-counter for the CPC. The fourth squad member, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), endorsed her home-state senator, Warren.

Khanna, a former Obama official who now represents a liberal San Francisco Bay Area district, had been aggressively working to secure Pocan’s endorsement for weeks, sources said. Texting and button-holing colleagues in the Capitol, Khanna also has been trying to recruit other undecided lawmakers, including Pocan’s CPC co-chair, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), a Black Caucus member. 

Jayapal hasn’t made any decision, but she appears to be leaning toward Sanders. She and Sanders go back to the 2016 cycle, when she became the first state lawmaker in Washington state to endorse Sanders. He returned the favor that year, making her one of the first congressional candidates in the county to receive his coveted endorsement.

“I have a very close relationship with Bernie; I have a very close relationship with Warren that is newer,” Jayapal told The Hill. “I will endorse but we just have to beat Trump, and I want a bold progressive to beat Trump. I will throw-in at some point.”

Sanders and Warren — longtime progressive allies and friends — are both heroes of the left who have similar policy prescriptions; both back “Medicare for All,” free college, a $15 minimum wage, and higher taxes for the rich.

But in a rare rift this week, Warren accused Sanders of telling her during a private 2018 meeting that a woman could not win the White House — an allegation Sanders vehemently denied in a statement and on the debate stage in Iowa. Sanders, Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg are in a tight four-way race in the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The ugly, public spat over sexism in politics has complicated the endorsement decision for Jayapal and other liberals as they prepare to choose sides in the progressive civil war.

“Sexism is real. There is no question that she thinks she heard that from Bernie; there is no question that Bernie doesn’t think he said that,” Jayapal said. “At the end of the day, we need to get back to the issues and be clear that, No.1, a woman can win, that is absolutely true, and sexism is real. And the issues are what really are going to propel us to the end, and progressive unity is really important to that.”

Of course, Sanders and Warren aren’t the only ones locking in congressional endorsements. Biden, a Washington fixture, has support from three dozen senators and congressmen, including four Democrats who endorsed this week: Reps. Terri Sewell (Ala.), Tom Malinowski (N.J.), Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.) and Colin Allred (Texas).

And the latest entrant to the primary race, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, picked up his first endorsements this week — moderate Democratic Reps. Max Rose (N.Y.), Harley Rouda (Calif.) and Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), a leader of the Blue Dog Democrats.

Bloomberg, who has said he may spend up to $1 billion to defeat Trump this year, is even attracting praise from some staunch progressives, who say the former New York City mayor has “put his money where his mouth is” when it comes to backing campaigns to fight climate change and gun violence. 

“I haven’t endorsed anybody, and I am on the progressive wing of the Democratic party, so I wasn’t looking at him. But I am very impressed with some of the things he has done. He really stood up for gun safety and climate, and I think he needs to be acknowledged for doing that,” said Lowenthal, a Progressive Caucus member who represents Long Beach.

“He’s in it for the right reasons when it comes to Trump. He really sees him as a great danger.” 

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