Hill Progressives Look to Push Clinton to the Left

If they can't get a more liberal nominee, then they can at least try to get a more liberal agenda.

With Hillary Clinton the overwhelming favorite, Capitol Hill progressives know they probably won't be able to change who tops the Democratic ticket in 2016. But they can try to change her message—and press her for details.

"I think it's important that all the candidates—that includes Hillary—be more succinct in how they stand on some of these issues," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, who cochairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "I was glad that she's talking about income inequality, I was glad that she's talking about the dark money that's affecting elections, but specificity is what people are going to ask about, and firm declaration."

Grijalva's caucus co-head, Rep. Keith Ellison, is among the 20 lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who have signed on to an effort to push presidential hopefuls to embrace a progressive agenda. The issues topping that list include Wall Street reform, Social Security expansion, ramped-up education spending, and stricter campaign-finance laws. That "Ready for Boldness" agenda is the creation of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which helped draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the 2012 Massachusetts Senate campaign but has stayed out of efforts to push her to run for the presidency.

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While other liberal groups are holding out hope for a challenger to Clinton's left, most Capitol Hill progressives have focused their efforts on encouraging the front-runner to embrace their ideals. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama over Clinton in 2008, likes what she sees so far. "I'm optimistic about Hillary Clinton," DeLauro said in an interview Wednesday. "This is an enormously capable woman who has led the charge in so many ways on so many issues. I have no reason to believe she's going to be anything other than a strong voice and wants to address the different issues that the country faces, and to do that in a formidable way."

Already, 64 House Democrats—a third of the caucus—have endorsed Clinton, according to The Hill. Democrats' leaders in the House have made no official endorsements, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi often refers to the party nominee—"whoever she may be"—with a smile. Her No. 2, Whip Steny Hoyer, also spoke favorably of Clinton during a Tuesday meeting with reporters, without mentioning another hopeful from his home state, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"I'm supportive of Hillary Clinton, and I believe that she will be a very strong candidate," Hoyer said. "Her rollout was exactly the message that needs to be said. The American people want somebody on their side." He added that Clinton's candidacy could bring out voters who share the ideals of Democrats up and down the ticket. "A Hillary Clinton candidacy gives us a great opportunity to take back that House," he said.

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Even if the party's nominee is indeed predetermined, progressives believe they still have a role to play in shaping the election. "Part of what happened in 2014, a lot of issues that the American people and our base cares about were unspoken," Grijalva said. "Early on, in order for our base to truly know where everybody stands, I think it's important. It begins to define our message."

He added that income inequality should be the central issue for any Democratic candidate, while also citing climate change and immigration as important areas of focus. "Being forthright and straight up and saying, 'This is what I stand for'—I hope that's an impetus to the presidential candidates," he said.