WASHINGTON — Members of Congress declined this week to disown a centrist Democratic think tank whose op-ed, bashing liberal populism and calling out Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has divided the party.
Third Way’s Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler wrote Monday that “nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats” than to embrace the economic populism of Warren and New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. Warren responded Wednesday with a letter to several major financial institutions, asking them to disclose donations to think tanks — seen as a thinly veiled reference to the op-ed.
Several progressive groups have also put heat on Third Way’s co-chairs, demanding they speak out against the op-ed and sever ties with the think tank.
Rep. Joe Crowley, a New York Democrat who is an honorary co-chair of Third Way, told BuzzFeed that he did not agree with Third Way on all issues, especially on Social Security, but he would “continue to work with them.”
“I think the Third Way has done a lot to contribute to the debate and change in the future, and this is an area where we disagree,” he said. “I don’t agree with their position as it pertains to Social Security and income disparity but there are other issues that I do agree with them and I’ll continue to work with them. I don’t write their editorials, I agree with them sometimes, I don’t agree with them all the time. In this particular instance I don’t agree with them.”
He joins Pennsylvania Democrat Allyson Schwartz, who through a spokesman on Wednesday said she found the op-ed “outrageous” but she would not end her affiliation with the group. Schwartz is running for governor of Pennsylvania.
Rep. Ron Kind, another co-chair, said Wednesday he had not read the piece but had heard about it, and disagreed with the idea that “economic populism is a dead end,” and that the party has enough room for both centrist and progressive ideas. He also took offense to the authors calling out Warren by name.
“We need to be a big tent party and have room for lots of ideas,” he said. “The Third Way has been about promoting centrist ideas and that’s great. But signaling out someone is the wrong way to go.”
Another co-chair, Rep. Jim Clyburn, said he had not read the piece and did not want to comment yet.
Progressives are not pleased with the effort from Third Way, however.
“The Third Way was out of line,” Rep. Keith Ellison, chair of the progressive caucus, said Thursday. “It was really ugly. They are dead wrong.”
“I wish no Democrats would work with them because it reveals who they are and what they are about, which is nothing in the Democratic vision,” he continued.
Meanwhile, progressive groups, including Social Security Works, continued to demand that House Democrats who serve as co-chairs speak out publicly against the piece.
“Third Way is nothing but a front group for Wall Street interests. The growing movement of progressive populism isn’t about political vanity for DC consultants, it’s about solving the problems faced by working Americans,” said Cole Leystra, executive director of Progressives United. “We call on Reps. [Jared] Polis, Crowley, and Clyburn to join their colleague Rep. Allyson Schwartz in denouncing Third Way’s attacks on economic populism and the social safety net.”