Major stakes for the party and the nation

Posted 10/6/21

STORY OF THE WEEK: Fissures are widening among Democrats, raising questions about setbacks in 2022 and the party's ability to get things done. Think we're talking about the looming showdown between the RI Political Cooperative and establishment

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Major stakes for the party and the nation



Fissures are widening among Democrats, raising questions about setbacks in 2022 and the party’s ability to get things done.

Think we’re talking about the looming showdown between the RI Political Cooperative and establishment Democrats here in the Ocean State? Nope.

The uncertainty facing President Biden’s domestic agenda in Congress reflects major stakes for the party and the nation. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who traces some of her roots to Rhode Island) is a very canny pol, and if anyone can pull a rabbit from a hat, she’s quite capable. Still, Democrats have to thread an exceedingly difficult needle by getting balky progressives to back the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, and then winning moderate support for the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package.

Asked what a failure to pass these two measures would show about Democrats, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin responded, “Failure is not an option on the president’s broader infrastructure package. I’m confident that our party will come together and deliver on our promises to the American people.”

Langevin declined to specify any cuts he would support to the $3.5 trillion bill, although he said he always thought the overall cost would be subject to negotiation.

Speaking on Political Roundtable last week at The Public’s Radio, Langevin added, “I believe if we’re successful, then certainly, people will reward the Democrats by returning us to majorities in the House and the Senate and … continue to keep the White House.”

Conversely, though, if Democrats fail to pass the two top items on Biden’s agenda, the opposite may happen. As David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times, “The tensions within the party are more serious than they have been in years.” And the serial inability of both parties to tackle a need such as infrastructure – and ongoing disputes about funding the operation of government – probably bolster typical Americans’ doubts about Washington, D.C., fueling support for anti-establishment candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.


While there’s a long way to go until the September 2022 primary, the back and forth among supporters and critics of the RI Political Co-Op continues to smolder.

As Ed Fitzpatrick reports in The Boston Globe, the Co-op has now disavowed Jennifer Jackson, the would-be primary challenger to Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Newport), after questions were raised about some of her social media posts. For critics, this sparks more questions about the Co-op, including the vetting of candidates.

“We simply cannot build the movement necessary to win a livable future for working families in Rhode Island,” former Rep. Aaron Regunberg tells me via email, “if we allow ‘progressive’ to be defined by a handful of politicians whose priorities are so skewed they believe it furthers our goals to run a candidate who’s insulted refugees, dismissed the humanity of people suffering from addiction, and questioned vaccines (and who knows what else) against a longstanding progressive organizer who’s actually been doing the tough work of bringing people together to win real, ambitious change.”

Asked for comment, Co-op spokeswoman Camilla Pelliccia said, “We will be evaluating our process of vetting prospective candidates' backgrounds to ensure that every person involved with the Co-op is aligned with our values and policy platform – policies that every day Rhode Islanders desperately need to live better lives.”


The jewelry industry publication site JCK is offering detailed coverage of the bankruptcy plan involving the once-vaunted Rhode Island company. A Chapter 11 reorganization was approved late last month. A London-based investment fund now owns 65 percent of A and A.


Neil Steinberg of the Rhode Island Foundation recently shared two noteworthy nuggets with Joseph R. Paolino Jr., during Paolino’s ABC6 Sunday show, “In the Arena.”

The first was how the foundation has engaged a firm (Jones Lang LaSalle) to evaluate prospects for the life sciences in Rhode Island and how the state could do more to nurture that.

Asked for more detail, Steinberg tells me, “JLL executives Robert Coughlin and Travis McCready, two Boston-based industry leaders who helped build the life sciences industry in Massachusetts, will lead this. JLL has a dedicated practice in this field and has conducted similar studies in other places. The study is expected to be completed later this fall. They will get input from universities, hospitals, investors and companies working in the sector and we plan to widely share the results, including the public and governmental leaders. Among other considerations, they will address strengths, weakness, opportunities and the business environment.”


The second noteworthy effort shared by Steinberg with Paolino is how the Rhode Island Foundation is looking at how to address the cost increases that may be result from the envisioned Brown-Lifespan-Care New England merger. Brown University President Christina Paxson, in an interview with The Public’s Radio earlier this year, downplayed that possibility. But the experience in other states is sparking concern on the potential cost factor.

Steinberg tells me the Foundation is “coordinating an independent effort, of research and inclusive committee input, to inform the intentional community-building efforts of the proposed integrated academic health system, including Lifespan, Care New England and Brown. Our goal is to gather feedback from Rhode Islanders, including those who may not otherwise have a voice in this process, and to develop recommendations … This effort will supplement the regulatory approval process, to ensure benefit for all. Across all of these activities, the Foundation and advisory committee has worked to ensure an inclusive process where a broad range of voices and perspectives are heard by, and incorporated into feedback for, Lifespan, Care New England and Brown. Recommendations will be presented to the hospital systems and the university as well as to regulatory officials such as the R.I. Attorney General and Director of the Department of Health in later fall.”

(Disclosure: my wife works for Lifespan.)


In the wake of a stronger-than-expected GOP challenge from Robert Lancia in 2020, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin has tacked to the left on abortion and to the right on the Biden administration’s handling of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Regarding the latter, yes, the withdrawal was chaotic, although people can debate whether that was unavoidable. To come at the issue in a different way, what level of responsibility does a 20-plus year member of Congress bear for the length of the war, considering how ending the U.S. role in 2001 (when Al Qaeda was on the run) could have saved countless lives and trillions of dollars?

Langevin argues the long-term presence was worth it. He points to the absence of a major foreign terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11. “We had to make sure that we maintained the conditions there that prevented terrorists from reconstituting,” he said on Roundtable. The goal of a safer, more stable Afghanistan remained elusive, “but we did keep America safe for 20 years.”


The sessions for a National Conference of State Legislatures’ chiefs of staff gathering in Providence last week included “Managing Up: How to Succeed With Any Type of Boss,” “Nurturing Relationships in a Digital Age,” and “Boosting EQ: How to Increase Our Emotional Intelligence.”

Thirty-three people came from out of state for the NCSL get-together, including staffers from Alaska, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, Kansas, Utah, Colorado, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania. Organizers say no tax dollars were spent in connection with this. The visiting chiefs of staff toured the State House and the Naval War College, heard from House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and – of course – got the real deal from House CoS Ray Simone and Senate CoS Jake Bissaillon.


Ryan Holt, director of legislative affairs for Attorney General Peter Neronha, starts a new gig in the coming week with Gerry Harrington and Chris Vitale’s Capitol City Group. The AG’s office is looking for a successor … Emily Crowell, most recently chief of staff for the state Department of Education, is signing on with Advocacy Solutions … Keith Stokes is going to be the new business/development director for the city of Providence … Congrats to Rhody native Amanda Pitts, who’s keeping it local with a move from ABC6 to WPRI12.


The accomplishments of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell included getting his name on a grant program that has paid toward the cost of college for innumerable students. Now, due to what supporters call the shrinking buying power of the Pell Grant, there’s a campaign dubbed #DoublePell. One TV that aired locally urged viewers to contact Rhode Island’s congressional delegation to support an expanded Pell grant – a curious spend since the delegation is already supporting the push.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. You can follow him on Twitter@IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit www.thepublicsradio.org.


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