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Why Is a Freshman Democrat Attacking Progressives in a Washington Post Series?

Freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger accused progressives of not wanting to feed children.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger speaks at the Center for American Progress 2019 Ideas Conference on May 22, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

The manner in which the establishment press will rally to the cause of conservative Democrats whenever progressive ideas gain traction has been well documented in this space. The sun rose on Tuesday morning to shine down on yet another example of the practice, this time in the guise of a Washington Post puff piece about Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger … except it wasn’t so much a puff piece as a frontal assault on the progressive wing of the House Democratic caucus.

Rep. Spanberger, who defeated Republican Dave Brat in 2018, is one of the cluster of newly elected, “centrist” Democrats Speaker Nancy Pelosi protects and cherishes as her key to holding the majority in 2020. While progressives everywhere were pleased at the prospect of Brat no longer polluting the House chamber, his replacement is suddenly proving to be a muddle of strangeness whose motive for actively participating in a brazen hit piece against fellow Democrats remains opaque.

Spanberger’s record is undeniably left of many of the red-state “Blue Dog” Democrats who came into the 116th Congress with her last November, who prefer the term “moderate” because “conservative” is bad for the brand. She has voted “Yes” on almost every bill put forward by the House during this session, many of which were important pieces of progressive legislation.

More than that, Spanberger has personally co-sponsored legislation to denounce Trump, address climate change, fully fund care for 9/11 rescue workers, enhance background checks for gun purchases, and in defense of transgender members of the military. Her only “No” vote to date was cast against the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, joining progressive “Squad” Reps. Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley in their opposition.

However, some of her “Yes” votes were deeply troubling. Spanberger’s conservative colors were revealed when she co-sponsored legislation condemning activism against Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and for Palestinian human rights.

And then there’s the issue of immigration. A review of the Post piece reveals that the bruises Spanberger absorbed after a “Yes” vote — in favor of the Trump-favored Republican border funding bill — remain fresh.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and a number of progressive House members vigorously opposed the bill because it kept open concentration camps housing separated children, and put no restrictions on how Donald Trump could spend the appropriated funds.

For a time, it appeared a progressive version of that border funding legislation might see the light of day, which would have put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus in a challenging spot.

Ultimately, however, the bill was thoroughly bungled by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Senate, and Speaker Pelosi angrily bowed to the inevitable. For AOC and her fellow progressives, it was a stinging act of political cowardice compounded by flagrant ineptitude, and their reaction was both swift and caustic.

Spanberger, it seems, did not enjoy becoming the subject of their ire after that calamity of a bill passed with her help. Nearly two months later, her bitterness has not subsided. “That week,” she is quoted in the article as saying, “showed me that for some people, ideology matters more than putting food in the mouth of a child.”

Got that, everyone? Spanberger says progressives don’t want to feed children. Pretty subtle stuff. Next week: Progressives want to destroy the sun.

It gets weirder from there. The Post article obliquely notes how “most people knew” Spanberger was once an undercover CIA operative, skipping the part about how she had to get portions of her Agency record declassified in order to run for Congress. When pressed for details on her CIA career before last year’s midterms, Spanberger had few to offer. “I talk in broad brush terms about what it is that I did,” she told ABC News, “because that’s all I am permitted to do.”

For the record, I was not among the “most” who knew of Spanberger’s CIA past. I did not know that it was her love of languages that compelled her to specifically apply for work at the CIA. I do, however, know the CIA has been actively craving linguistics experts since the inception of the so-called war on terror. One can only imagine where Spanberger’s talents took her in her eight and a half years with the Agency during that torture-riddled affair. One thing is certain: She’s not telling.

Spanberger was more than happy to explain to the Post why her years spent working for “the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service” give her credibility when it comes to voting with Republicans on immigration issues and attacking progressives for failing to do the same.

While an official for the Postal Inspection Service, Spanberger worked primarily on drug and money laundering cases. As the only Spanish speaker during many of the arrests she was involved with, she was “the one dealing with crying children, telling them that we were taking their Daddy away,” she told the Post. “I was the one talking to a crying wife, saying why we were arresting her spouse.”

The Post explains that Spanberger “wanted her [House] colleagues to know she had experience easing children through difficult moments and was trying to act in their best interest.” Apparently, in order to properly contextualize votes that keep concentration camps open and funded, one must be able to think like an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent. Thinking like an ICE agent also probably helps when you’re slagging House progressives in the D.C. paper of record.

“Spanberger visited the border with a bipartisan group, a trip that confirmed her position that the situation can improve only by addressing the root of the problem,” reports the Post. “For example, she favors adding more immigration judges to eliminate the backlog of migrants seeking asylum.”

Kudos to her for visiting the border (Speaker Pelosi finally got around to it a bit over a week ago). That being said, one might strenuously argue that addressing “the root of the problem” has more to do with reforming U.S. policy in Central and South America than it does with appointing additional judges to put additional people into detention centers for the crime of fleeing the consequences of U.S. policy.

The article concludes with “almost everyone” applauding Spanberger at a Virginia town hall event after she told the assemblage she was against impeaching Trump. “Congress has the role of asking questions because we should want to get to the bottom of things,” she told a constituent, quoting the Pelosi line on impeachment to the note.

House progressives have shown promising strength and vitality since the 2018 midterms, yet political reality is a subtle thing, and Pelosi’s arithmetic regarding 2020 is not entirely off base. In order to maintain majority control of the House, conservative Democrats from conservative states must be endured to a certain degree. Expecting deep-red districts to elect and then re-elect a bunch of AOC clones is not reasonable at this juncture, and so space must be made for conservative House Democrats to be who and what the voters who put them there want.

This does not explain why Rep. Spanberger chose to be the starring figure in a Washington Post hit piece on progressives regarding immigration, especially after compiling a mostly-progressive voting record that would stand up to scrutiny in many of the bluest districts in the land. Highlighting her CIA and law enforcement past while insinuating that progressives hate feeding children would seem to suggest her voting record is set to take a hard right turn. Bitterness, after all, leaves a lingering aftertaste.

My request to Rep. Spanberger’s press office for comment on her participation in the Post article received no reply, but that’s fine, we’ll be hearing more in the coming months. The last line of the piece reads, “This is part of an occasional series of stories about Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s first year in office.” Clearly, the Post is more than happy to help a Democrat attack House progressives, and Spanberger probably digs the ink she gets by serving as that paper’s willing accomplice. Just another day in politics.

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