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How Progressives Won Over the Democratic Center

When the far-left politicians Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley were first elected to Congress roughly half a decade ago, many moderate Democrats saw their unapologetically progressive vision for America as an albatross around the neck of the Democratic Party.

That certainly seemed to be the view of Democratic leaders, who seemed intent on making “the squad,” as the progressive caucus is known, a group of permanent outsiders.

“All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the House, told Maureen Dowd in 2019. “But they didn’t have any following,” Ms. Pelosi said of the squad. “They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.” At the time, Ms. Pelosi was bristling from criticism the progressive members had levied against her over her support for a funding bill the progressives said failed to protect migrant children, a major issue during the Trump presidency.

Five years later, Ms. Pelosi has stepped down from the leadership position she long held. The House progressive caucus has grown to nearly 100 members and has become a significant force within the party. The progressives have outlasted not only Ms. Pelosi, but also moderate Democrats who once led the party, like Representative Steny Hoyer, who has also bowed out of his role leading House Democrats. Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the new minority leader, isn’t a member of the progressive caucus. (He left the caucus when he became leader of the House Democrats.) But he has been far friendlier to the group’s members and their agenda than his predecessor, Ms. Pelosi, a nod to the blossoming role of progressive politics within the Democratic Party and its voter base.

And in recent months, the insurgent group of unapologetic leftists has gained even more sway within the Democratic Party. Some of this is clearly a reaction to the extremism of Trumpism and far-right House Republicans. But the progressives have gained power in Washington amid rising anger over the U.S. role in Gaza.

For the first time in decades, possibly since the anti-Vietnam War and environmental movements, the left wing has led the center of the Democratic Party in a new political direction on a major issue — one sharply critical of the Israeli government, impatient with the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and increasingly willing to use American leverage to curb Israel’s military plans.

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