House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can only afford to lose the support of a handful of her House Democratic colleagues in order to be elected on January 3, to her fourth term as leader of the House.
A handful of outspoken left-wing activists are pressuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive House lawmakers to take advantage of this vulnerability to force a vote on one of their leading issues: Medicare for All. Commentator Jimmy Dore and Briahna Joy Gray, Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign spokesperson, led calls for Democrats to refuse to vote for Pelosi unless she holds the first House floor vote on single-payer healthcare.
They argue progressives would be foolish to waste what they see as a golden opportunity to promote Rep. Pramila Jayapal's Medicare for All legislation amid a raging pandemic and with millions of newly uninsured Americans.
"Force the Congress to show which side they're really on," Dore said during his YouTube show this week. He accused Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent advocate for Medicare for All, of "pretending to be part of a movement," but in reality "running cover for Nancy Pelosi."
—Jimmy Dore (@jimmy_dore) December 15, 2020
Gray joined Dore's call in a Tuesday piece for the progressive publication Current Affairs in which she argued that threatening to remove Pelosi from the speakership would help draw media and public attention to the healthcare debate.
"A floor vote on Jayapal's bill could capitalize on the public's overwhelming approval for Medicare for All, and expose the chasm between the policies Democratic voters want and the positions their elected representatives are willing to take," Gray wrote.
Gray and Dore pointed out that Ocasio-Cortez has previously suggested she supports holding a House vote on Medicare for All.
"We can't even get a floor vote on Medicare for All," the congresswoman said in January. "Not even a floor vote that gets voted down. We can't even get a vote on it."
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez responded to the criticism in a series of tweets replying to professional football player Justin Jackson, who backed Dore's call to force the vote.
Jackson tweeted, "If @AOC and the squad don't do what @jimmy_dore has suggested and withhold their vote for Pelosi for speakership until Med 4 All gets brought to the floor for a vote… they will be revealing themselves. Power concedes nothing without a demand."
Ocasio-Cortez argued that Democrats don't have the votes to pass Medicare for All in the House and lawmakers have already made clear whether or not they support the legislation.
"So you issue threats, hold your vote, and lose. Then what?" the congresswoman wrote.
The Bronx native argued that House progressives should instead focus their energies on pushing policies that can pass, including a $15 minimum wage and "elevating longtime progressive champions to important positions of leadership." She added that "movement pressure" and successful progressive primary candidates are helping push more Democrats to sign on to the single-payer proposal.
Other influential progressives, including Intercept journalist Ryan Grim and former Sanders aide David Sirota, sided with Ocasio-Cortez and argued it would be wrongheaded to burn up political capital on a doomed vote.
"Only asking for that performative vote — rather than also asking for things that might change the structural power dynamic — would be a waste, and yet another instance of progressives reverting to a feckless tradition of prioritizing spectacles rather than the wielding of actual power," Sirota wrote on Monday in the socialist outlet Jacobin.
He suggested Democrats push a series of other more achievable measures, including passing legislation to allow states to create single-payer healthcare systems, that would help pave the way for a future transformation of the healthcare sector.
Ocasio-Cortez seconded Sirota's proposals and added a few more of her own.
"[People] may think it's just personalities that block floor votes. But it's not just that. There are structural blocks (yes, placed by conservative Dems) we must unravel," she wrote.