Election 2020

Embattled Illinois Democrat Warns Party of Progressive ‘Tea Party’ Takeover

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) along with House Republicans speaks at a Capitol news conference to introduce the Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act on Oct. 9, 2013. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

He’s chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus and a Democrat? That’s a big litmus test fail as far as progressives are concerned, and it could mean Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois will have to find other work in 2019.

“I don’t think he understands the district has changed beyond dramatically since his tenure,” Marie Newman told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board in a joint appearance with Lipinski, the first of the campaign.

Newman, a LaGrange, Ill., businesswoman and a progressive Democrat, thinks she is the candidate who can finally unseat Lipinski, a seven-term incumbent who followed his father into office in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.

But as the Illinois Democrats’ March 20 primary draws closer, Lipinkski warned his fellow Democrats on Sunday of an ultra-left-wing “tea party” movement pushing the party too far to the left of mainstream America.

Lipinski told Chicago’s WGN Radio that just as Democrats are beginning to recover from having the lowest number of U.S. House seats since the days of the Hoover administration, left-wing Democrats threaten to drag the party into a deeper hole.

“There are those who want to have a ‘tea party of the left’ in the Democratic Party to match, unfortunately, what’s happened to the Republicans,” he said. “We need to have a big-tent party. We need to rally around those issues that can bring all Democrats together.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has refused to endorse Lipinski and fellow Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who is a member of the DCCC leadership, backed Newman’s campaign in January.

However, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tossed Lipinski a lifeline March 1 when, at the end of her weekly press conference, she told a reporter, twice, that she supported Lipinski’s re-election.

“On abortion, yes, I’m pro-life,” Lipinski said. “I think science shows that life begins at conception, and that is a value that I think as a Democrat who believes government has a role in protecting those who are vulnerable that we should protect.”

However, Lipinski also told the Sun-Times editorial board that Newman failed to understand his history in Congress as a Democrat who was a problem-solver instead of a politician who merely added to the “bickering and gridlock” in Congress.

Abortion is not the only issue on which the divide between Lipinski and Newman is as stark as one might expect between a Republican and a Democrat.

While Lipinski referred to the Colorado case of a baker arguing for his right to refuse to serve a gay couple as “a very difficult question” of free speech, Newman said the story was a “horrific” case of discrimination.

Lipinski – this guy is a Democrat, remember – actually voted against Obamacare. Newman supports Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) call for “Medicare for all.”

Lipinski, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, bolted from the Democratic mainstream when he voted against the DREAM Act. “At the time I thought we should not just deal with one group of immigrants.”

Newman wants a “clean” DACA bill sans the Trump border wall or any other concessions. But she admitted Democrats might have to compromise to get DACA done.

Newman, who makes her living as a marketing consultant, isn’t the only Democrat who has a problem with Lipinski.

Outspoken Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez endorsed Newman Jan. 18 as his candidate of choice in the 3rd District’s March 20 Democratic Party primary.

Gutierrez told reporters it wasn’t easy to come out against a “colleague in the House,” especially one who is a member of his own party. However, everyone was waiting for the “but” to drop at the end of that disclaimer.

The few journalists who showed up for the Capitol Hill press conference were not disappointed.

“I think this strengthens the Democratic Party because it says to the Democratic Party we have a response in the age of Donald Trump,” Gutierrez said. “Primaries are about definition of a party. I want to define myself with Marie Newman, and I hope the Democratic Party does too.”

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has also backed Newman’s candidacy.

“We need Marie Newman in Congress so that we have another vote for healthcare, for women, and for our LGBTQ friends and family,” Gillibrand said in a statement.

Our Revolution Illinois, the group that organized Sanders’ presidential primary campaign in Illinois, is also backing Newman.

“Marie Newman has been a tireless champion who fights every day for working families. We are confident that, as a member of Congress, she will work to advance human rights for all, fight for $15 per hour, Medicare for all, immigration reform, and for free college tuition,” said Clem Balanoff, chairman of Our Revolution Illinois.

But Lipinski is not losing the traditional Democratic base of support: labor unions.

In January, five labor unions endorsed Lipinski’s campaign, including the Illinois AFL-CIO, which cited his “strong pro-labor record.”

“The choice for working families could not be clearer,” said Terryl Jares, Illinois AFL-CIO vice president. “Dan Lipinski is a Democrat who embodies our values, fighting to increase the minimum wage, expand parental leave, and protect workers’ rights to organize and bargain.”

Lipinski’s lifetime labor scorecard, according to the AFL-CIO, exceeds 90 percent.

The mayors of 30 towns in the 3rd District also rallied to his side in January, which led Lipinski to remind the Chicago Tribune that even though Newman’s campaign had attracted national attention, 3rd District politics remained local.

“This is a race being run in the 3rd District,” Lipinski said. “To extrapolate (this election) to what’s going on in the rest of the country does not make a lot of sense … I don’t think endorsements from outside the district matter.”

But still, even if he holds on and become an eight-term incumbent for the 2020 election, perhaps because of Marie Newman’s campaign, Lipinski changed his mind on one issue in January: DACA.

Even though he once voted against the DREAM Act because it focused on only one group, Lipinski announced Jan. 13 he liked the bipartisan Senate DACA plan proposed by Sens. Dick Durbin (D) and Lindsey Graham (R).

“(T)he senators’ proposal sounds like a commonsense, compromise agreement,” Lipinski said in a statement, “that will provide a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to this country as children, while also helping to secure the border and making other sensible changes to immigration policy.”

Lipinski also backed out of a commitment to speak at the massive March for Life demonstration in Washington this January. He told Buzz Feed the decision was not a reaction to attacks on his pro-life stand by Newman and others.

Lipinski said he just couldn’t share the stage with President Trump.

“I have been critical of many things the president has said that have been offensive to the dignity of many individuals and groups. Unfortunately, no one knows what the president may say at any time,” Lipinski said. “Knowing this, I chose not to speak at the Washington March for Life because I did not want to put myself in a potentially morally compromised situation.”