Midwest Democrats seek greater weight in Congress

Midwestern Democrats want to amplify their voice in Congress after feeling like second-class citizens to their coastal counterparts in the caucus.

The new Heartland Caucus, led by Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, is speaking out about the party’s needs for unity, messaging and attention to issues in the Midwest.

The caucus also talks about the need for more representation within the party leadership, which is run only by lawmakers from the East and West coasts.

“During my tenure here, the leadership came largely from the shores,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. “You can see the current leadership compared to a couple of years ago, and you can see who is missing. We usually miss this part of the country.”

Midwestern Democrats have long sought greater representation in the party, as well as the need to combat the misconception that they are merely in passing country.

Lawmakers discussed issues related to revitalizing the workforce, agriculture, and rebranding the Midwest and Rust Belt.

“We are still the area that makes things. We are still the area that grows things. We continue to be the area where people who know how to make and grow things are. Even if they’re not in that specific line of work, this is where they live,” said Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois.

Last year, the Democratic caucus voted to create the battleground leader position, which would expand representation for lawmakers who hail from purple districts. The seat is held by Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.

While many Midwestern Democrats consider themselves vulnerable in election years, Ms. Dingell said her push for a seat at the table isn’t just about front-line members or swing districts, pointing to the ideological diversity of its caucus.

The caucus ranges from Democrats like Rep. Angie Craig in a swinging rural Minnesota district to Rep. Ilhan Omar, also from Minnesota, a member of the liberal Firebrand Squad.

“We are doing this as Heartland. This has nothing to do with the front lines. The seats we have lost have been in the Midwest and we must keep those seats,” Ms Dingell said.

Other members said the decision to add that position did not reconcile the complaints the Midwestern representatives had, given that Ms. Spanberger is from Virginia.

“The leadership was partly right,” Ms. Kaptur said of Ms. Spanberger’s appointment. They need someone from Heartland. Part of our challenge is that we don’t have anyone from leadership in any Heartland role, so this is one of the realities we face time and time again.”

Ms Kaptur, who is the longest-serving woman in the House, added that while the caucus fights for Democratic representation, it is not a partisan issue.

“We have some very talented people in Heartland, and they deserve a place on the Democratic and Republican side of the aisle,” he said.

Ms. Dingell said she has had discussions with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar and Whip Katherine Clark about their concerns and will continue to have an open dialogue with them.

Mr. Jeffries is from New York, Aguilar from California, and Ms. Clark from Massachusetts. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, is also from California.

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