By Seung Min Kim


The Congressional Progressive Caucus is laying out what it wants from President Barack Obama on immigration executive action, including shielding 7 million undocumented immigrants from deportation — a larger figure than the White House’s expected plans would cover.

Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota say in a memo that Obama “should act swiftly and comprehensively. We should not force deserving individuals and families to wait any longer.”

The 7 million figure comes from a pair of calculations by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington that focuses on immigration.

About four million undocumented immigrants could be shielded from deportations if Obama extended his executive action to parents or spouses of U.S. citizens, green card holders, and young immigrants whose deportations have been deferred under a 2012 Obama program. An additional 3 million could come with various changes to that 2012 directive, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that would broaden the number of immigrants eligible for that program. One example is getting rid of age limits under DACA — to qualify, an immigrant must have been younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012 under current requirements.

But Grijalva and Ellison want the administration to consider other factors as well. For instance, the CPC leaders believe that immigrants who would’ve qualified for legalization under a Senate-passed immigration last year should qualify, as well as immigrants who have lived here for three or more years and “regularly employed” workers.

“The program should take into consideration those aspiring citizens who have contributed to their communities and have established a strong work history, regardless of familial ties,” Grijalva and Ellison said.

Obama has pledged to act unilaterally on immigration by the year’s end, after delaying the executive action under pressure from Senate Democrats anxious about losing their majority.

Though the White House has been tight-lipped about the scope of the executive action, sources familiar with the administration’s deliberations believe Obama is considering two key factors in whether immigrants will qualify for executive action – how long they have been in the United States, as well as family ties. That would not be as expansive as many immigration advocates and Democrats on Capitol Hill have called for.


By Spencer Ackerman

The Guardian

Congressional progressives are calling on President Barack Obama to allow them to view secret videotapes depicting graphic forced tube feedings for Guantánamo Bay detainees.

In a letter to be sent to the White House on Thursday, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus request the administration provide legislators with videotapes showing the force-feedings of detainees Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Imad Abdullah Hassan, which they call “contrary to American laws or values”.

“Ongoing secrecy is untenable,” wrote representatives Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, both Democrats. “The facts pertaining to these practices at Guantánamo should be available to members of Congress.”

The tapes are the subject of a transparency battle in federal court. Earlier this month, Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Obama administration to disclose hours of classified videotapes showing Guantánamo personnel feeding Dhiab, who is on hunger strike, through a tube inserted through his nose and into his stomach. The Guardian is part of a media coalition seeking the videos.

Yet it is uncertain when the public will get to see the Guantánamo videos, if at all. Kessler last week permitted the government a 30-day pause on the videos’ release after the Justice Department objected it had insufficient time to remove the names or voices of Guantánamo guards and medical staff. Lawyers for the Justice Department say they are studying their options for appeal.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus stopped short of calling for the videos to be released outright. Its letter, obtained by the Guardian, is agnostic on viewing the videos in secret or in a public session. But Grijalva and Ellison write that “no national security or other justification has been provided” for classifying the tapes as secret.

Through his lawyers, Dhiab has said he considers the force feedings, and associated forcible cell removals, to be administered in an unnecessarily brutal and painful manner. For three days in October, Kessler presided over what she called a “trial” of the propriety of the force-feedings, the first court hearings into military conduct at Guantánamo.

While Dhiab’s lawyers argued the force-feedings are medically unnecessary and amount to a punishment for hunger-striking, Justice Department lawyers rejected any assertion that the feedings are inhumane. Litigation in Dhiab’s case resulted in the first acknowledgement by the government that the feedings are recorded on video.

Grijalva and Ellison write that they support Obama’s efforts to close the detention facility at Guantánamo, a stalled goal.

“Until that occurs, we would like to work with the administration to stop any abusive or illegal practices that take place within its walls,” they write.

By Alex Seitz-Wald


Two years, seven congressional committee investigations, 25,000 pages of documents, 50 briefings, nine reports, and at least eight subpoenas later, Congress is trying once again to get to the bottom of Benghazi. 

On Wednesday, the House Select Committee on the 2012 terror attack in Libya will hold its first hearing, putting the incident front and center again just as Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state during the attack, is stepping out onto the 2016 stage with a visit to Iowa.

Republicans, led by Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, say they’re just after the truth, but Democrats view the revival of the issue as pure partisan politics, and criticize the GOP for spending millions of dollars on a new investigation they say isn’t needed. 

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are calling on Speaker John Boehner to do away with the Benghazi committee and “refocus its attention” on issues they say are more important to Americans.

“We urge you to establish a Select Committee on Income Inequality to focus on the issues that everyday people face instead of spending more than $3.3 million of taxpayer money on an investigation that will not help families put food on the table,” they wrote in a letter to Boehner obtained by msnbc. 

“If House Republicans are serious about focusing on jobs and our economy,” the 25 progressive members of Congress continue, the GOP would create a committee to “investigate and develop common sense solutions to our country’s widening income gap.”

Of course, there’s almost zero chance that Boehner will heed the call, but the letter underscores Democrats’ lack of faith in Republicans’ ability to keep politics out of any Benghazi investigation.

On Thursday, the anti-Clinton Stop Hillary PAC will launch a $100,000 advertising campaign in the early presidential states of Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire demanding that Clinton testify under oath before the committee. The ad will run in key media markets, including Gowdy’s district.

“We still need to hear answers,” the commercial says. “But Hillary Clinton prefers silence.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic super PAC American Bridge and its pro-Clinton offshoot Correct the Record have created a website to defend Clinton and the White House from charges the group dismisses as “conspiracy” theory. 

Gowdy faces tremendous pressure from the conservative base to subpoena Clinton and use the committee to try to stymie her presidential ambitions, but he has repeatedly promised that he won’t let politics get in the way of the committee’s work.

While the Democratic members of the select committee include the ranking members of relevant committees, such as the House Oversight and Armed Services committees, Republicans did not include the chairman of those committees on their roster, suggesting they wanted a start fresh. That means many of their members are less likely to be familiar with the work that has already been done on the Benghazi, Democrats fear.

Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement that he “sincerely hopes” the Select Committee will “make full use of the extensive investigations that have already been completed to define our scope, avoid duplication, and conserve taxpayer dollars.” 

Gowdy has so far inspired some confidence among the Democratic members of his committee, in part by selecting an idea proposed by a Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff for the first hearing.

That first meeting will focus on the implementation of recommendations from the internal State Department report probing the Benghazi attack to determine whether the government is following through on its own ideas. Improving the security of American diplomatic outposts is an uncontroversial topic that even Democrats say is important.

And it’s a topic that gets to the heart the policy questions at the center of the controversy over the attack, says Mitchell Zuckoff, a journalism professor who co-wrote a new book on Benghazi with members of the team that defended the CIA complex in the Libyan city that night. 

Even so, Zuckoff acknowledged, it will be difficult to divorce the policy questions from the politics. “I think it’d be naive for anyone at this point to not worry about politics when they talk about Benghazi. The story became political before it became factual. We’ve been playing catch up for the past two years,” he told msnbc.

By Igor Bobic

Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama maintains that he doesn't need congressional approval before engaging the nation's armed forces in Iraq. But progressives on Capitol Hill think Congress should weigh in anyway -- especially given the possibility of a risky, open-ended mission that is expected to last well beyond Obama's last day in office.

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, introduced a nonbinding resolution on Thursday urging Congress to vote to authorize military force for "any sustained United States combat role in Iraq or Syria." The measure ought to be "narrowly tailored and limited," include "robust" reporting requirements, and explicitly prohibit the deployment of ground troops in the region (which the president has verbally said would be the case).

The Obama administration maintains that the president already has the requisite authority to take military action against Islamic State extremists in the Middle East. Administration officials argue that because the Islamic State is merely an outgrowth of al-Qaeda, airstrikes against it are covered under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which permitted the U.S. to go to war against al-Qaeda. "By trying to change its name, it doesn't change who it is," Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday on CNN.

But the CPC disagrees. The 2001 AUMF "should not apply to ISIS because ISIS has no operational connection to al Qaeda or the Taliban and is not currently considered an 'associated force' of al Qaeda," the caucus' resolution reads. Indeed, al-Qaeda formally dissociated itself from its onetime affiliate earlier this summer.


Outside of the progressive caucus, Obama's announced strategy received mixed reactions on Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agree with the president, as does a large swath of Republicans on the Hill. Some vulnerable Senate Democrats, however, disagree, as does Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a more cautious response, telling reporters on Thursday that while "it would be in the nation's interest" for Congress to have a say, traditionally a president must first ask for it.


In an interview with The Huffington Post on Thursday, Grijalva dismissed the administration's argument that the 2001 AUMF provides sufficient legal basis for going to war. "Put the thread to the needle as much as you want. The fact that remains is that this is an escalation beyond that original resolution. The whole network that’s developed there, it's too big of a thread to the needle," he said.

Grijalva mocked Republicans who have previously criticized Obama for overreaching his executive authority on immigration and the Affordable Care Act, but now don't take issue with his decision to wage war without congressional authorization. "Here to me is a very object example of where Congress needs to step in," Grijalva said.

He also said that he hoped the CPC resolution would spur further debate in Congress to avoid repeating the costly mistakes that have haunted America for over a decade.

"We don’t want to do [George W.] Bush -- shoot first and ask questions later. We’ve already seen that movie, it didn’t work out for us," he said. "So, before we make a commitment, to go into Syria, to go into Iraq ... [we need] to have a robust debate, and maybe through that debate, we begin to modify the president's request and put some control points into it."

By Alan Pike

Think Progress

Hundreds of striking fast food workers and their supporters were arrested Thursday while protesting to demand higher wages and the right to unionize, strike organizers say. Workers walked off the job in 159 different cities on what was at least the 10th day of strikes in the 21 months since the campaign for a $15 hourly wage and full labor rights began in New York City just after Thanksgiving 2012.

The arrests were scattered around the country and included 50 in Chicago, 42 in Detroit, 11 in Little Rock, 10 in Las Vegas, and 52 in Kansas City, according to a partial list provided by organizers. Police in Detroit reportedly ran out of handcuffs at one point while arresting peaceful strikers who were blocking traffic during their demonstration. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) was among the 25 workers and supporters arrested in Milwaukee, and several other members of the House Progressive Caucus joined worker actions in various cities. Moore said she was given a $691 ticket for disorderly conduct after she and other protesters defused to clear the road they were blocking.

With 159 cities striking on Thursday, fast food workers have approximately doubled the size of the battlefield over the past year. Strikes hit 60 cities in August 2013, the first day to see strikes in a double-digit number of cities. A December strike day featured 100 cities, and about 150 cities saw walkouts in May. Over the nearly two years since the campaign began, the strikes have leaped from New York and other northern cities to every corner of the continental U.S.

But beyond the geographic spread, Thursday’s strikes are the first example of a tactical escalation that workers and organizers promised at a convention earlier this summer. A July gathering of more than 1,300 fast food workers produced a resolution to begin using civil disobedience and nonviolent protest to advance their cause.

“We had over 100 people arrested, but however they respected every police officer,” Rev. W. J. Rideout told Detroit’s ABC affiliate WXYZ on Thursday. “And we also chanted, ‘Police need a raise also.’ EMS need a raise, firefighters need a raise. So we’re not against anyone here, we’re against the corporations, we’re against McDonald’s.”

McDonald’s was recently found to be responsible for its workers’ treatment by the National Labor Relations Board. That might sound obvious, but for decades the fast food industry has used franchise agreements to shrug off legal liability for labor violations by the owner-operators who run the vast majority of fast food chain stores. That legal facade crumbled this summer after workers’ attorneys presented evidence that McDonald’s is responsible for setting the rules that lead store owners to commit wage theft by falsifying time sheets, forcing people to work off the clock, and requiring workers to pay for their own uniform upkeep, among other widespread company practices.

The unrelenting worker pressure on the ground and the gradual shift in how labor regulators treat the fast food business model could make it difficult for these companies to maintain the status quo for much longer. At present, CEOs are paid 1,200 times more than workers in the industry. Frontline fast food workers — the vast majority of whom are adults, many with families to support — earn poverty wages that require them to turn to public assistance programs to survive despite having a job. This taxpayer subsidy of low fast food wages costs the American public well over a billion dollars a year (and when accounting for similar dynamics in other low-wage industries, the cost is closer to a quarter-trillion dollars). Worse, even those meager wages often don’t get paid properly. Nine out of 10 fast food workers reports being victimized by some form of wage theft.

Media Matters

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) responded to guest radio host Erick Erickson's recent remarks that people who work in fast food have "failed at life," calling the statement "degrading" and "out of touch" with hard working Americans.

On the September 4 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson called minimum wage workers failures stating: 

If you're a 30 -something year- old person and you're making minimum wage, you've probably failed at life. It's not that life dealt you a bad hand. Life does not deal you cards. It's that you failed at life.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) released a statement on Erickson's "degrading remarks" about fast food workers.

Fast food workers often work 2 to 3 jobs just to put food on the table and to take care of their families. Erick Erickson is clearly out of touch if he thinks this is something to attack. He ought to interview these workers on his radio show - maybe then he will learn what real work is.

Over the last year, the Progressive Caucus has been privileged to stand side by side with Americans from all across the country as they organize and rally for fair wages. We have met thousands of hard working men and women, many of whom work far more than 40 hours per week. Contrary to Erickson's remarks, not one of them has failed at life.

By Ned Resnikoff


The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) isn’t passing a lot of legislation these days. The math doesn’t allow it, not when Republicans control the House and hold enough seats in the Senate to block any unwanted attempt at cloture. As a result, plans to legislate an increase in the federal minimum wage are perpetually on hold, stymied by an unfriendly House majority that seems likely to become even more powerful after the 2014 election.

Yet over the past several months, the CPC has managed to win a handful of small but crucial policy victories. In February, the caucus – led by co-chairs Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. – successfully lobbied President Obama into issuing an executive order that sets a $10.10 minimum wage for federally contracted workers. On Thursday afternoon, he signed yet another ordercracking down on labor law violations among federal contractors. This time, the president gave a personal shout-out to several members of the caucus, including Ellison and Grijalva. Those two – along with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and CPC members Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. – “always stand up for America’s workers,” said the president.

The president’s executive orders regarding federal contractors were a victory in particular for Rep. Ellison, who was present at Thursday’s signing. For over a year, he has been lobbying the White House and doing media appearances to talk about the need for lifting federally contracted workers’ labor conditions. But he and other CPC members have also been taking an unusual step for members of Congress: On repeated occasions, they’ve joined the picket lines of striking federally contracted workers.

While other Democratic members of Congress might sometimes profess their solidarity with a particular social movement, the CPC has taken steps to blur the line between electoral politics and movement organizing. According to Rep. Ellison, that’s all part of a conscious strategy.

“We really see ourselves as the legislative wing of the progressive movement,” he said during a panel at the progressive convention Netroots Nation in late July. “We work hand in glove with our progressive partners.”

Those progressive partners include Good Jobs Nation, the group organizing federally contracted workers, and its parent organization, the labor coalition Change to Win. For Ellison, they also include the fast food workers’ movement, which over the past two years has led a series of increasingly large day-long strikes at fast food locations around the country. Ellison has attended fast food strikes in the past, and listened in on movement strategy sessions; in late July, he delivered a speech at the first-everfast food workers’ convention outside of Chicago.

“The Progressive Caucus, which I represent, is here in Washington, D.C. We’re here to stand with you here, we’re here to raise your voice, and demand that you get $15 and a union,” he told the crowd of about 1,300 fast food workers.

Speaking to msnbc, Rep. Ellison said that building “durable, sustainable, enduring relationships” with progressive groups was the only way to provide CPC with any meaningful leverage within the Democratic Party.

“There’s nobody to the left of the Progressive Caucus, so we can’t say we’re going to vote with the Greens or something,” he said. “So how do we get some power? Well we partner with our progressive allies. We have strong relationships with labor, with the environmental community, with the civil rights community.”

This version of the Progressive Caucus is a relatively recent phenomenon, and Rep. Ellison wondered aloud whether it could have made a difference in the 2009 health care reform debate.

“What if we could have deployed 50,000 people on the Capitol demanding that single-payer be in the dialogue?” he asked. “Would that change it? I don’t know, but I’d like to try.”

Although the CPC casts a wide net in terms of its partner organizations, its alliance with labor groups like Good Jobs Nation may be the most significant bond it has formed. Change to Win deputy director Joe Geevarghese said Ellison played a key role in promoting the voices of the federally contracted workers on the Hill.

“We would not have gotten the executive orders without Congressman Ellison’s steadfast support, and the steadfast support of all the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus,” he said.

The relationship between the CPC and Good Jobs Nation began in early 2013 when the latter group brought federally contracted workers to speak at a policy summit hosted by Progressive Congress, the non-profit partner organization of CPC. Three or four low-wage, federally contracted workers told CPC members about their working conditions.

Immediately after they spoke, said Geevarghese, “Congressman Ellison stood up and said ‘this is wrong, this should not be happening on federal property in federal buildings, [and] the CPC is going to send a letter to the president on your behalf.’” Other members of the caucus agreed. When the federal contractors went on their first strike in May 2013, the CPC publicly supported the action.

Now that Good Jobs Nation has won another executive order from the president, the movement will likely go through a retooling period before the next big action occurs. But in the meantime, Ellison plans to introduce a bill that would turn union organizing into a civil right. He’s also indicated that the CPC might eventually change its position on the minimum wage and argue that the president’s favored $10.10 proposal is no longer sufficient. Instead, Rep. Ellison indicated his support for the $15 hourly wage which is one of the fast food strikers’ key demands.

“The Progressive Caucus has not had a vote on introducing a bill at $15, but it is something that I don’t mind telling you that we’ve had informal discussions about,” he said. “We don’t have a formal position on it yet.”

Ellison’s strategy of having the CPC work closely with various social movement groups doesn’t have many analogs in modern federal politics; the closest thing might be on the right, where various Republican legislators jockey to identify themselves with the tea party grassroots. But there is historical precedent on the left as well: Geevarghese suggested Frances Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, as one predecessor. Otherwise, the closest points of comparison might be on the local level, where politicians such as Seattle’s Kshama Sawant have explicitly rooted their legislative work in the social movement politics of grassroots organizations.

Now that model has met some limited success on the federal level. The question is whether the CPC and its allies can build on that success, especially given the hard strictures of the legislative branch.

By Sam Stein

Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on Thursday seeking enhanced workplace conditions and rights for federal contract workers, three separate sources have told The Huffington Post.

One of those sources told The Huffington Post that “progressive workers' rights groups are getting asked for workers who would be impacted by the executive order to be there [at the White House] tomorrow.”

The exact details of the order remain unknown. The White House has not responded to repeated and numerous requests for comment. But sources outside the administration expect it to require contractors to disclose labor law violations. The order is also expected to encourage executive agencies to consider labor law violations when ordering federal contracts.

A preview of the president's likely intentions may have been given on Tuesday in a post by the Obama-allied Center for American Progress. That post encouraged the president to sign an executive order that would “ensure that only companies that comply with federal workplace laws are able to receive federal contracts.”

The issuing of an executive order by the president on Thursday would indicate that the administration feels unbowed by a lawsuit brought forth by congressional Republicans challenging the extent of the executive actions he has taken.

Over the past year and a half there have been nine protests by low-wage federal contract workers over the conditions at their workplaces. In June 2013, workers at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center filed a complaint with the Labor Department alleging labor violations.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, meanwhile, released a report late last year documenting some of the poor conditions of workers for federal contractors. The report noted that 18 federal contractors "were recipients of one of the largest 100 penalties issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor between 2007 and 2012."

The president has already signed one related executive order, setting a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour for workers under federal contracts. Workers have been encouraged by the order, but also have pushed the administration to take additional action that would, among other things, enhance their collective bargaining rights, protect them from wage theft and enhance workplace protections.

In addition, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has urged the president to sign an executive order along these lines. In a letter sent last week, the caucus chairs called for a Good Jobs Executive Order that touched on three tenets: guaranteeing labor and employment law protections; adopting a “fair compensation preference” (in which contractors would be favored if they provided a living wage and full benefits package); and respecting workers’ rights to negotiate.

“The President is leading by example, establishing the principle that if you are breaking the law, you don’t get to do business with the Federal government," said Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win, a sponsor of the Good Jobs Nation campaign of low wage federal contract workers. "Just like the $10.10 executive order had a ripple effect across the economy, we hope that this bold step by the President sends a clear signal to the private sector that you need to do right by your workers.”

By Edward-Isaac Doverie


The Congressional Progressive Caucus has a new suggestion for President Barack Obama, who’s said he’s looking for more ideas for new executive orders: guaranteeing wage protections and negotiation rights for federal contractors.

The caucus was one of the leading voices calling for Obama to sign the executive order that raised the minimum wage, which he announced he would in his State of the Union in January. Now, co-chairs Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) say he needs to go further and sign what they’re calling the Good Jobs Executive Order, in a new letter to the president obtained by POLITICO.

That order would guarantee labor and employment law protections and ensure no contractors are exempt from existing laws. It would also give preference to employers which provide a living wage and full benefits, and to those that allow collective bargaining and worker strikes.

While minimum wage for federal contractors was a good start, they say, more is needed to deal with “violations of workers’ rights like wage theft, which includes off-the-clock work and non-payment of overtime, remain unaddressed,” the letter argues.

Twenty-six million workers could be affected by the new protections — many of them women and minorities — and the situation is urgent, the lawmakers said in the letter.

“A Good Jobs Executive Order, which could impact millions of workers, is a logical next step after raising the wage of federal contract workers to $10.10 earlier this year,” the letter states. “We urge you to adopt it as a centerpiece of your ongoing effort to grow and strengthen the middle class.”