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Liberals blast Dem leaders for inviting moderate voice to party retreat

In this Sept. 26, 2016, file photo, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
In this Sept. 26, 2016, file photo, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. AP

As Democratic members of the House of Representatives gathered for a retreat in Baltimore, a coalition of progressive advocates scolded party leaders for inviting Third Way, pinning Hillary Clinton’s loss on the center-left think tank’s ideas and strategies.

“The devil has his pitchfork,” said Erica Payne, founder of the progressive organization Agenda Project. “He works at Third Way.”

The criticism of Third Way, whose co-founder Jim Kessler was scheduled to address lawmakers at the retreat, is the latest example of the divide that is growing between Democrats’ centrist and progressive wings. Both sides pin blame for Donald Trump’s victory on the other, and each is trying to argue that their approach is the only way to stop the billionaire New Yorker from winning re-election in four years.

“Third Way has no business being a philosophical leader, a policy leader, or a messaging leader for the Democratic Party,” said Payne. “So while I believe it’s interesting to hear all viewpoints, I don’t understand why one would bother … to give oxygen to that viewpoint, given their role in destruction of the Democratic Party.”

Third Way has drawn the ire of progressive advocates because it raises money on Wall Street, which some liberals consider anathema to the party’s principles.

Certainly, criticism of Third Way and the battle between the party’s liberal and centrist factions is not new. The two sides have fought for as long as there has been a Democratic Party, and Third Way has been subject to similarly withering decrees since its founding in 2005.

But liberals’ arguments have taken on a new significance since the election, as Democratic officials debate how to reclaim power in Washington after the Republican sweep in November.

Party lawmakers are trying to devise their own solutions at this week’s House Democratic retreat in Baltimore, as they plot how to respond to President Trump’s legislative agenda.

“There’s an incredible urgency to this,” Payne said. “I don’t think there is anything that is more important for the Democratic Party to find its soul again.”

Officials at Third Way rejected the criticism and disputed that it was representative of a larger rift inside the Democratic Party, arguing it is instead unified in a fight to defeat Trump.

“There may be a few isolated voices who want a smaller party, but the leadership and the vast majority of Democrats are interested in a bigger, more inclusive party,” said Matt Bennett, a Third Way co-founder.

Officials within the House Democratic Caucus say they attempted to make the lineup of speakers representative of the party’s diverse coalition. Others speakers include liberal Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

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