Obama to Finally Meet With Progressive Caucus

Posted April 24, 2009 at 11:53am

Liberal House Democrats are finally getting their White House meeting.

The 77-member Congressional Progressive Caucus is due to sit down with President Barack Obama on Tuesday afternoon, sources familiar with the session said, ending a months-long wait that liberal lawmakers increasingly viewed as a snub.

Liberals are expected to use the meeting to press Obama for a public-plan option in the health care overhaul and to direct a greater share of funding in the supplemental spending package for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward diplomatic initiatives, a Progressive Caucus source said.

Obama — the first chief executive elected from Congress in a half-century — launched a charm offensive on his old stomping grounds upon taking office in January, making several trips to the Capitol to huddle with both parties in both chambers.

And he has hosted private meetings at the White House for the other four major House Democratic factions: the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The most recent of those huddles, with the CHC, came on March 18, and in the weeks since a frustration had been building in liberal ranks that they were being slighted. “Members are either taking it as a slight, or that we’re irrelevant in the planning process,— Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the caucus, told Roll Call in late March.

By raw numbers, the liberal bloc is the largest in the Democratic Caucus, and it claims some of the heaviest hitters in the chamber: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) formerly belonged, and current members include Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.).

But the Progressive Caucus has at times battled the perception it lacks the organizational muscle to flex with the full force of its profile. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chair of the caucus, in late March warned that Democratic leaders shouldn’t take the group for granted, and said it would seek to convey to the president “that we are good soldiers but we’re not just go-along-to-get-along people.—