Several members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Monday strongly rejected Sen. Bernie Sanders’s call for a liberal primary challenge to President Obama.
“Before Sanders said it, nobody else was talking about it,” said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. “I very much disagree. I think it would be very disruptive. I understand the frustration, but acting on that frustration is not a good political strategy.”
Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said on Friday that the country would benefit from a progressive primary challenger to Obama. He cited the president’s concessions to Republicans during the debt-ceiling negotiations.
“I think there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president … who cannot believe how weak he has been, for whatever reason, in negotiating with Republicans,” Sanders told progressive radio show host Thom Hartmann. “I think it would do this country a good deal of service if people started thinking about candidates out there, to begin contrasting what is a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama is doing.”
Sanders said he had not tried to recruit any primary challengers yet, but that he was “now giving thought to doing it.” Sanders has previously said he will not mount such a challenge himself.
Sanders first floated the idea of a left-wing primary challenge after Obama struck a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts last year. At that time, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, also spoke up in support of a primary challenge; like Sanders, Kucinich said at the time that he would not challenge Obama himself.
A CNN/ORC international poll released on Friday pointed to growing disillusionment with Obama among liberal voters. 13 percent of those surveyed said they disapprove of Obama because he has not been liberal enough, CNN reported.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Whip Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia said he would “not be surprised to hear others” echo Sanders’s disillusionment over Obama’s concessions to Republicans as the parties fight over raising the debt ceiling.
“I think the president is aware of the sentiment of the majority of the American people, and they are sold on the idea that we reduce our debt,” the Democrat said. “It would be suicidal for the president to disregard the desires of the people.”
But Johnson suggested that liberals should be more understanding of the political difficulties facing Obama. “To kick the legs out from under him at this crucial moment is spectacularly inappropriate,” the House member said.