John Podesta briefed the House Democratic whip team yesterday on his vision for a progressive think tank that would rival the likes of the conservative Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute.
Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, said lawmakers “were very interested in what we’re up to.”
His formal visit with House Democratic leaders marks a new level of synergy between his still-developing Center for American Progress and the Democratic Party. Both are scrambling for ways to engage conservative ideologues in a policy arena that progressives concede has been dominated by the right.
Lawmakers said they were impressed with Podesta’s effort and looked forward to the ideas that the Center for American Progress plans to generate.
Podesta said he hopes to raise enough money for a $10 million annual budget to “operate a platform that can compete for public attention across the issues spectrum.”
“We’re trying to find a place where long-term ideas are generated and also where short, strategic responses come from,” he told The Hill.
He added: “We view the media as one of our main audiences.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who invited Podesta to his weekly meeting, said, “Democratic members are very excited that there is a new think tank organization that is working to counteract the extreme and destructive policies of the Republican Party and put forth new and positive ideas for America.”
He added, “I thought it was important for John to speak to this group because I have tasked them with constantly looking ahead, discussing new ideas and talking about how to communicate our message to the American people.”
Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas), chief deputy whip, said, “We sure appreciate John Podesta’s effort to become a counterbalance to the right-wing extremism that is flooding the media.”
“It’s really important for the whip team to begin formulating a strategy and solidifying our message,” he added.
Despite the lawmakers’ enthusiasm, think-tank leaders have been tepid about the arrival of a new organization and some have drawn distinctions between their functions and what they see coming from the Center for American Progress.
Tripp Baird, director of Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation, said, “Right now it looks more like a press tank, but we would absolutely welcome them in the serious arena of policy debate.”
Tripp added that the Heritage Foundation has clashed with congressional Republicans and the White House on many occasions. “I don’t think anyone at Heritage is going to get a job with the administration,” he said.
“But these guys look like they’re in bed lock, stock and barrel with the Democratic Party. That’s not where you want to be as a think tank,” he added. “It just looks like a big PR firm, and it reeks of the DNC [Democratic National Committee]. That should not be what they should be doing.”