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Since the Domestic Policy Council was established in 1985 by Ronald Reagan, there have probably only been two heads of the organization that you’re familiar with: Bruce Reed under President Clinton and Melody Barnes under President Obama. If you’re a real political animal, you might remember Margaret Spellings who served in George W. Bush’s first term or know the present occupant, Joe Rogan, who is leaving the position on May 24.
Along with the Economic Policy Council, the DPC is part of the Office of White House Policy. It’s distinct from the Office of Legislative Affairs, which is responsible for advancing a president’s agenda in Congress. The DPC is more of a big-picture organization and it often operates much like a standard cabinet meeting. The leader of the group has a lot of sway over the White House, although how much depends on the president. Bruce Reed, for example, was a founding member of the Democratic Leadership Council and one of the primary authors of Clinton’s controversial welfare reform. Melody Barnes was a civil rights attorney and counsel to Senator Ted Kennedy on the Judiciary Committee. She helped push through the Affordable Care Act.
As POLITICO reports, there has just been a major fight among Republican activists and White House staff over who will replace the outgoing Joe Rogan. Initially, it was decided that White House staff secretary Derek Lyons would get the position. Members of the administration began talking about the choice on background with reporters. But then there was a revolt from conservatives who objected to Mr. Lyons because of his connections to Jeb Bush. In particular, the MAGA crowd is hostile to Jeb’s pro-immigrant rhetoric during the 2016 campaign.
His affiliation with [Jared] Kushner also raised some eyebrows, given that Trump’s son-in-law has pushed for some more moderate policies, including business-friendly immigration changes that hardliners say are too lenient.
“This is not what #AmericaFirst voters signed up for,” tweeted conservative commentator Michelle Malkin May 6 using the hashtag #JaredKushnerIsNotMyPresident. Malkin described Lyons as someone who comes from Jeb Bush’s “Illegal Immigration Is An Act of Love” wing of the GOP.
“Trump has picked Derek Lyons as the head of the Domestic Policy Council…- he’s a former Jeb! Person,” tweeted Ryan Girdusky, a conservative writer and political consultant.
This gave Trump hardliners in the White House the juice they needed to overturn the decision. Instead of Derek Lyons, it will be Brooke Rollins filling the position. She’s the former president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “a think tank based in Austin partly funded by the Koch Brothers.” There are a couple of ironies here. First, she’s also affiliated with Jared Kushner, as she presently heads his Office of American Innovation. Second, the Koch Brothers are not exactly well-aligned with Trump, and nowhere are they in less agreement than on immigration policy.
But, whether this switch constitutes a true win for the racist right or not, it’s clear that MAGA conservatives are highly attuned to how decisions are made in the White House and which positions they want to control.
Contrast this with the progressive left. When it was recently announced that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be co-chairing a climate panel for Joe Biden’s policy shop with John Kerry, there was an uproar on social media. How could she sell-out her principles and work with establishment Democrats?
Ocasio-Cortez, Kerry and Biden might not seem like a natural fit, but the group came together because they all recognize that they need each other. When AOC, perhaps Bernie Sanders’ most high-profile congressional endorser, moved to embrace Biden as the inevitable nominee, she earned some good will. John Kerry praised and defended her during his April climate testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee for offering “more leadership in one day or one week than President Trump has in his lifetime.”
You might think that supporters of Bernie Sanders would be gratified to see Ocasio-Cortez placed in a position to help craft Biden’s climate policies, but the loudest voices were all extremely cynical about the move and critical of AOC for accepting it.
Ironically, back in March, Ocasio-Cortez was on television defending the Green New Deal and said, “This is not a Tea Party of the left, this is a return to representative democracy.” But many of her erstwhile supporters abandoned her when she gained a seat at the table. She might not act like the Tea Party, but many wish she would.
The progressive left too often does not want power. Power is pretty much all the racist right wants. Both groups are known for making unrealistic demands, but the Tea Party strategists actually understand the leverage points and will fight to get their people into positions of influence. At least in that limited respect, the Tea Party is a more effective anti-establishment organization.