Internal disagreements within the centrist coalition caused a number of Democrats, including the Hawaii congressman, to move on.

WASHINGTON — For the past two years, U.S. Rep. Ed Case was a co-chair of the congressional Blue Dog Coalition, a group of centrist Democrats who band together on issues that seek to curb government spending, bolster national security and rein in the nation’s debt.

But now, after an internal rift, Case is leaving the caucus behind.

That doesn’t mean he’s no longer a fiscal conservative. In fact, far from it.

Case still stands by his decision during the last Congress to team up with other moderates in a Democrat-controlled House to tamp down President Joe Biden’s original $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan in exchange for a more modest proposal. That resulted in an electoral challenge against him in 2022.

“I believed in the goals of the Blue Dogs and still do, but it does take up a lot of time,” Case said. “And for me, as I took a look at this next Congress, I felt a greater urge to return much more of my time and resources to the broader Indo-Pacific and Hawaii’s role in it.”

Lt Governor Josh Green and Congressman Ed case talking to eachother at the Democratic Party of Hawaii Unity Breakfast on Sunday August 14th, 2022. CivilBeat Photos Ronen Zilberman.
U.S. Rep. Ed Case says he’s not abandoning his centrist ideology just because he’s leaving the Blue Dogs. (Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022)

Politico first reported about internal divisions within the Blue Dog Coalition that resulted in seven of its 15 members, including Case, departing the group.

At issue, according to the news organization, was a debate about whether the Blue Dogs should rebrand itself as the “Common Sense Coalition” in an attempt to distance itself from its reputation as a Southern boys club with socially conservative leanings.

After a secret ballot vote in which the Blue Dogs rejected the name, Case and several others, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger, Mikie Sherrill and David Scott, decided against re-upping their membership, leaving an even smaller coalition behind.

Whether that weakens the Blue Dogs’ standing remains to be seen, especially given Republicans’ razor thin majority in the House, which stands at 222 to 212 with one vacancy.

As Andy LaVigne, the coalition’s executive director told Politico, he still expects the Blue Dogs to hold some sway in the new Congress.

“The Blue Dogs have never prioritized having a large coalition — our members look to have a focused, effective group that can influence the Congress regardless of numbers,” LaVigne said in a statement. “With a narrow majority governing the House, even a smaller group of members focused on getting things done for the American people on these issues can and will play a vital role.”

Now that he’s stepping away from the Blue Dogs, Case said, he’s planning to focus his energies on his committee assignments, which include Appropriations and Natural Resources. He also intends to work closely with the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is made up of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who seek to break the political gridlock in Washington.

Case said he’s vying for a seat on the new House select committee that’s focused on competition between the U.S. and China, although he acknowledges that it’s a long shot given that he already holds a coveted spot on Appropriations, where he’ll serve on the subcommittees for Defense and Homeland Security.

The House voted overwhelmingly in early January to form the committee. Only 65 members, all of them Democrats, opposed it, including new U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda.

Tokuda told Civil Beat that she voted against the committee because she was concerned it would only add to anti-Asian animosity that has spiked in recent years.

“The very thing I thought was, ‘Here we go with the xenophobia; here we go with the racism,’” Tokuda said.

Case said he shares Tokuda’s concerns, and pointed to efforts in 2019 to put safeguards in place to ensure the U.S. intelligence community wasn’t profiling Chinese Americans while pursuing espionage investigations involving the People’s Republic of China. But, he added, he still considers China the “challenge of our times.”

“As our relationship with China goes over the next generation or so that will determine, in major part, how the world goes,” Case said.

As for whether he still thinks he’ll be able to accomplish what he wants in a divided Congress, Case says he’s sticking to the approach he’s always had, whether he’s a Blue Dog or not.

“I’m still going to go out there and pursue fiscal responsibility, I’m still going to advocate for a strong and responsible national defense, I still believe that the rural parts of our country are being left out — especially by Democrats — and I certainly believe in getting stuff done, as opposed to endless yelling and screaming at each other, none of that’s going to change,” Case said.

“But I am going to find other other avenues to pursue all of that, including through the Problem Solvers Caucus, my Appropriations Committee and my ongoing interaction with the Blue Dogs themselves, including the ones that still Blue Dogs and the ones are no longer Blue Dogs, because they’re all still my friends and colleagues.”

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