The Nation Honor Roll is a decade old. Our earlier choices for “Most Valuable Progressives”—like Elizabeth Warren, first highlighted as an academic championing bank reforms, and Bernie Sanders, then a Vermont congressman—are now at the center of national debates and campaigns. So, too, are proposals for marriage equality, ending discrimination against the children of undocumented immigrants, and legalizing marijuana. This year’s list of most valuable progressive individuals, groups, and ideas focuses attention beyond the top-tier politics of a presidential race or the latest bad news. We’re celebrating progressivism that mattered in 2015 and that—if past is prologue—will matter even more in 2016 and beyond.
Most Valuable Senator
The Senate is controlled by Republicans who “continue to deny climate science, dismiss the urgency of action, or exaggerate the costs of the president’s plans to address it,” says Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. But Whitehouse—identified by Politico as one of the Senate’s “new breed” of “unabashed progressives”—keeps pushing back. He’s delivered more than 100 Senate speeches on climate change, and in December he was in Paris, urging the United Nations climate negotiators to go big.
That’s typical of Whitehouse, who stands firm when other Democrats get shaky. He was an early and ardent backer of the diplomatic agreement that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons, arguing, “Whenever possible, I believe the US should seek to advance our security goals through diplomacy rather than force.” In so doing, he made room for other Democrats to step up, assuring that the deal would survive GOP attempts to block it with a September veto override. Whitehouse’s trip to Paris employed a similar strategy. Along with several other senators, he delivered the message that, despite the Republican efforts to “undermine the credibility of the president’s climate commitments,” Senate Democrats had enough votes to back the president up, “giving the US all the credibility needed to strike a major agreement in Paris.” At home, the former Rhode Island attorney general talks up the idea that a federal racketeering lawsuit could “challenge [the] massive and sophisticated campaign to mislead the American people about the environmental harm caused by carbon pollution.”
Most Valuable House Member
It’s never easy challenging a president of your own party, but DeLauro did so with skill and determination in 2015, leading the charge that got the overwhelming majority of House Democrats to oppose granting President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in secret and without adequate congressional oversight. A House veteran who has worked with the White House on issues ranging from healthcare to gun control, DeLauro and Congressional Progressive Caucus allies like Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan and Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison challenged the administration without burning bridges. Republicans finally gave Obama the votes he needed to secure fast-track, but DeLauro kept working with labor, farm, and environmental groups, and experts like Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, to rally opposition. As the year came to a close, DeLauro and her coalition were still playing a critical role in preventing passage of what the congresswoman recognizes as “an unfair trade deal that will benefit the wealthiest corporations and individuals, while leaving working men and women to bear the costs of the agreement.”