Platform fight precedes Democratic convention
As the Democratic Party convention opens Trump is running scared with polls showing him at least nine points behind. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (left) and Vice Presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, right are playing major roles at the virtual convention, openly and behind-the scenes. New York Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, who will have only a one -minute taped message at the convention is a leader among progressives in the party who are unhappy about the resistance from party leaders to include Medicare for All and the Green New Deal in the platform. | Wikimedia Commons

The Democratic National Convention hasn’t started yet, and already there’s a fight over the party platform. There are differences in a party united in its determination to defeat Trump but divided on some key issues like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal.

And another fight may be brewing over the party leadership’s decision to basically stiff rising star and progressive leader Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from speaking more than a minute and only on tape.

The battle broke out in sessions of the platform panel, when the committee approved a document that does not openly endorse Medicare For All, one of the two favorite causes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., Ocasio-Cortez, National Nurses United and other key elements of the party’s progressive wing.

The other favorite is the Green New Deal, which Ocasio-Cortez champions and which some Democratic leaders, led by powerful, corporate-backed House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., sidetracked. As a result, Neal faces a progressive primary challenger in September.

But in the platform committee and on the “virtual convention” floor, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., co-chair of Sanders’ presidential primary bid this year and co-chair of the California state delegation, said he would speak and vote against the platform because it doesn’t back Medicare For All. It only recognizes the value of debate over the issue.

Endorsing Medicare For All and health care for all is a moral issue, even more than a political one, Khanna declared.

Instead, the platform, like presumed presidential nominee Joe Biden, endorses strengthening and expanding the Affordable Care Act, adding the “public option”—a weakened version of Medicare For All—and lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to 60.

And the Progressive Democrats of America reported in their first pre-convention session, on August 16, that at least 1,000 delegates, plan to join Khanna in submitting, advocating and lobbying for a platform plank that would explicitly endorse Medicare For All. The convention has more than 3,600 delegates.

If they lose the fight, they’ll vote against the platform, say both Khanna and Nevada delegation chair Judith Whitmer of Las Vegas. The foes will not just be the 1,000-plus pro-Sanders delegates, but some delegates committed to Biden and to Sen, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., she added. Those pro-Medicare For All Biden and Warren backers are also lobbying colleagues.

“It’s time for us to make our voices hard, but the virtual format made it very difficult to engage with the Democratic National Committee,” before and during the platform writing, explained Whitmer, the Nevada delegation chair and, like Khanna, a Sanders delegate.

‘This pandemic has shown us that our private health insurance system does not work for the American people. Millions of people have lost their jobs and their healthcare at the same time,” she added in a pre-convention statement.

“The will of eight in ten Democratic voters, a catastrophic pandemic, and an economic disaster where tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs and health coverage should count more than donations and lobbying from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries,” added Karyn Hollis, a Villanova University professor and Pennsylvania delegate, in an e-mail for Our Revolution. She’ll also vote “no.”

“We must defeat Donald Trump and stop creeping fascism, but we will also work to change the Democratic Party when they side with corporate power vs. the overwhelming majority of their voters,” she added.

The Medicare For All backers also worked outside the platform drafting sessions, circulating a petition that has more than 2,000 signatures as of the night of August 16. “Some high-profile delegates are backing this, too,” Whitmer said, without naming names.

And, with the Sanders delegates sweeping the field in the Nevada caucuses, his forces now hold nine of the ten state Democratic Executive Board seats. Their state convention, pushed by the Clark County (Las Vegas) delegates, enthusiastically backed not just Medicare For All but the Green New Deal. That majority will also push local candidates in a progressive direction, Whitmer said—a key goal of the PDA.

‘This (coronavirus) pandemic has shown us that our private health insurance system does not work for the American people. Millions of people have lost their jobs and their healthcare at the same time,” Whitmer said of Medicare For All. The pandemic forced the “virtual convention.”

The Green New Deal, too, is not mentioned by name in the party platform, but Ocasio-Cortez sat on the platform drafting committee that endorsed its goals and its plans to reduce emissions of carbon fuels, without uttering the phrase. The Green New Deal sets building trades union leaders and members on edge. They contend its demand to eliminate U.S. reliance on fossil fuels could translate into a loss of thousands of union jobs building pipelines, running refineries and repairing infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Khanna compared the actual and moral significance of backing Medicare For All to the party breaking with its Southern racists and forcefully endorsing civil rights legislation in 1948. That endorsement, too, was a minority report from the platform committee, which overcame the party establishment. The Southerners then walked out and later ran Gov. J. Strom Thurmond, then D-S.C., on an openly segregationist ticket in the fall.

Khanna also noted, in his statement, printed in Common Dreams, that President Harry S Truman ran, and won, that 1948 election, on, among issues, universal health care. But neither he nor others could get it through Congress. Universal health care stayed in the party platform until 1980, Khanna said.

“I will be voting ‘No’ on the platform because when we say that healthcare is a human right, we must truly mean it—and fight for it,” he wrote. “I believe if we remain stuck on such concepts as ‘affordable’ when talking about solutions to healthcare accessibility, we are badly constrained inside a limited debate.”

“I will cast my vote of ‘No’ for every person who has had to ration medication to afford food, or who has lost a loved one because a procedure that a doctor said was needed was not covered in an insurance plan.’

“I will cast a ‘No’ vote because, in the words of our great Democratic National Committee member from Iowa, Jodi Clemens, “Our friends are dying”—and I want my party, the Democratic Party, to address this moral problem with clarity of moral purpose.”

The Medicare For All petition is not the only one going around convention delegations. Another, with more than 400 delegates’ signatures on it, calls for a lead speaking role, of at least five minutes by zoom rather than 60 seconds on tape, for Ocasio-Cortez. She’d make the case for Biden to two key blocs the party is courting: Young voters and Sanders supporters.

“Giving AOC speaking time means so much to inspire young people,” said delegate Xenaida Huerta, 21, of Los Angeles told the PDA. “Having her speak even for five minutes is important. Having Kasich speak is offensive.” Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez recruited former Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich, a Donald Trump intraparty foe, to speak to the convention, and gave Kasich a prime-time slot.

And the PDA session also made clear that Medicare For All is part of a larger, and longer-running campaign, one that will continue even if Biden, whom several speakers called a good but imperfect candidate, defeats current GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump this fall.

“We’ll have to put forth an extensive agenda and be prepared to continue to campaign for it beyond the inauguration,” said Arizona delegate Kai Newkirk.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.