Progressives Pull Back the Curtain on Congress' Corporate Influence
Pulling back the curtain on the ostensibly “bipartisan” orientation for newly elected members of Congress at Harvard’s Kennedy School in Boston, Reps.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) informed the public through live social media updates on Thursday that—contrary to the ideologically neutral advertising—the private conference featured a heavy dose of speeches by corporate CEOs and completely shut out organized labor and members of the progressive community.
“Our ‘bipartisan’ congressional orientation is co-hosted by a corporate lobbyist group,” Ocasio-Cortez noted, likely referring to the Koch-funded American Enterprise Institute, which is co-sponsoring the event. “Other members have quietly expressed to me their concern that this wasn’t told to us in advance. Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here. Where’s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?”
Right now Freshman members of Congress are at a “Bipartisan” orientation w/ briefings on issues.
Invited panelists offer insights to inform new Congressmembers‘ views as they prepare to legislate.
# of Corporate CEOs we’ve listened to here: 4
# of Labor leaders: 0
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 6, 2018
Tlaib, for her part, called attention to a speech by Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who left his post as President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser earlier this year.
According to Tlaib, Cohn condescendingly told the freshman members, “You guys are way over your head, you don’t know how the game is played.”
“No, Gary,” Tlaib responded, “you don’t know what’s coming—a revolutionary Congress that puts people over profits.”
Gary Cohen, former CEO Goldman Sachs addressing new members of Congress today: “You guys are way over your head, you don’t know how the game is played.”
No Gary, YOU don’t know what’s coming – a revolutionary Congress that puts people over profits. https://t.co/ZLML2qzAW6
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) December 6, 2018
Journalists and progressives were quick to praise both Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib for their commitment to transparency and their willingness to offer the public a behind-the-scenes look at the corporate-dominated event that typically goes entirely undiscussed by members of Congress and the press.
“One of the best parts of Ocasio-Cortez’s arrival in D.C. as a new leader is that she notices, and is revolted by, the corrupt, corporatist rituals that are so embedded in D.C. culture that most politicians and journalists barely notice them, let alone find them objectionable or odd,” noted The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald.
Others echoed Greenwald’s praise of Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, both of whom rejected corporate PAC during their campaigns and ran on platforms demanding bold progressive change:
AOC’s twitter feed gives a fantastic insight into the entire process, and makes you realize how disconnected we usually are from what our reps are up to. Transparency is a great thing. https://t.co/QrXZcuaEWo
— Josh Olson (@joshuarolson) December 6, 2018
I cannot say enough how inspiring and illuminating it is to watch these women heading to the Hill and immediately puncturing gaping holes in the gilded, ossified norms that have prevented Congress from working for the people. https://t.co/KHiKTAMxfu
— Brian Merchant (@bcmerchant) December 6, 2018
“Democratic leadership signs off on these events,” observed Huffington Post reporter Zach Carter. “The new class isn’t having it.”
According to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics (IOP), which is hosting the orientation, the event is designed to give newly elected members of Congress “insights on governing from former elected office holders, current and former senior White House and administration officials, diplomats, economists, business leaders, lobbyists, and academics.”
Below is a list of speakers who are participating in the event. Conspicuously absent, as Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, are any representatives of organized labor, environmental groups, other public interest advocates, or anyone who could reasonably be considered a progressive:
- Hon. Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, former Secretary of Labor and Director of the Peace Corps
- Hon. Ash Carter, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Belfer Professor of Technology and Global Affairs
- Hon. Mitch Landrieu, former Mayor of New Orleans, IOP Visiting Fellow
- Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.
- Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors
- Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School
- Gary Cohn, former Director of the National Economic Council
- Douglas Elmendorf, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School
- David Gergen, former Presidential adviser, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership, Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School
- Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson