Looking to build itself into a nerve center for the anti-Donald Trump resistance, the liberal Center for American Progress think tank is relaunching its advocacy-focused arm Thursday and bringing on a longtime senior aide to Sen. Harry Reid to help lead the charge.
Adam Jentleson, Reid’s deputy chief of staff, will work to steer the new war room at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which its leaders hope will provide Democrats with a centralized resource to oppose the president-elect’s moves — starting with his Cabinet nominations.
The reorientation comes at a difficult inflection point not only for Democrats, but for the constellation of left-leaning organizations that pepper the Washington landscape and that fully expected to be advising Hillary Clinton’s White House transition team at this point. CAP’s move, landing Thursday to mark the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Bill of Rights, is one of the most significant in a series of pushes into a world where Democrats are once again the opposition.
“Our goal is to be the central hub of the Trump resistance, to hold Trump accountable for the promises he made,” said CAP president and CEO Neera Tanden, a confidant of Clinton’s and her campaign policy director in 2008.
“Our overarching theory of the case is that he promised to ‘drain the swamp’ and improve the lives of middle-class Americans, and where he betrays those promises, we want to make it clear to the public that he’s done so.”
The organization is hardly the only one seeking to position itself at the forefront of the party in the Trump era — the American Bridge opposition research group led by Clinton ally David Brock launched its own “war room” last week. Yet CAP’s long track record as a center of Democratic thought and its exceptionally close ties to Clinton and her campaign both grant it extra weight within the party infrastructure.
And the question of how the think tank would recreate itself in 2017 has been the subject of significant chatter within party circles as of late, particularly given the fact that its 2003 birth was orchestrated by John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman and a former senior aide to both President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama.
Yet, the new position is not entirely novel to the organization.
“This isn’t unfamiliar territory to CAP. It was founded at a time, 2003-04, when [George W.] Bush was in the White House, and Democrats didn’t have control of either chamber,” explained Angela Kelley, the executive director of the Action Fund. “So to some extent we’re dusting up and updating the playbook from 10 years ago.”
Now, the group will be hiring researchers as it promotes its Trump transition tracker, which is intended to “empower readers and users to oppose Trump nominees” by informing them about activities that are being organized to stand in the way of appointments, explained Action Fund Deputy Director Igor Volsky.
Its website — separate from CAP’s ThinkProgress news blog that has grown 33 percent in circulation since Trump’s win — will also track Trump’s conflicts of interest and will include resources like petitions and tools allowing readers to send messages to relevant elected officials.
“What I hope to bring is a relentlessly aggressive attitude and orientation toward holding Trump accountable every single day,” said Jentleson, who will formally join the organization after the new year, once Reid leaves the Senate. “They have incredible resources here, a large staff, and I think what I hope to do is look to weaponize all of the resources that CAP can bring to bear.”