Democrats launch effort to counter conservatives’ sweeping ‘Project 2025’

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Democrats launch effort to counter conservatives’ sweeping ‘Project 2025’

House Democrats this week are launching a concerted campaign to hit back at Project 2025, a sweeping conservative effort to advance right-wing policies and expand the powers of the presidency in the event that voters return Donald Trump to the White House for a second term. 

The Democrats are alarmed by both the scope of Project 2025, which touches on virtually every facet of American life, and the policy changes it proposes, including the elimination of certain federal agencies, the overhaul of others and the stocking of all departments with loyalists to conservative causes. 

The critics say the conservative playbook, originating from the Heritage Foundation, poses a threat to the very workings of government and democracy that have presided in Washington since the nation’s founding, demanding an orchestrated counter-strategy to ensure it never gets off the ground. They’re creating a new task force with that goal in mind. 

“Americans don’t understand just how far down the road to a dystopic, right-wing theocracy we are right now,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who is spearheading the effort. “And that, for me at least, is the priority: Making sure people know it, and making sure we’re ready to confront it.”

The idea was conceived, Huffman said, after members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) were briefed by several liberal advocacy groups on the specifics of Project 2025. Those groups, including Accountable US, the Center for American Progress and the Brennan Center for Justice, will coordinate with the Democratic task force to get their message out heading into November’s elections.

“It just occurred to me that this stuff is so significant and urgent that we really need to do more to spotlight it, certainly for the American people in the months ahead, but also for Congress,” Huffman said. “Because in the unthinkable event that Trump wins the presidency, this stuff is going to move very quickly. And if we’re reacting to it, we’re losing.”

Launched two years ago by the Heritage Foundation, Project 2025 aims to disassemble the federal government and replace it with a smaller, more nimble version — stocked with right-wing officials at every level who would work to advance the agenda of the next conservative president, be it Trump or someone else. The project arose as part of the conservative outcry that “deep state” bureaucrats across federal agencies had acted to stymie Trump’s policy agenda in his first term, including his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. 

The project seeks to eradicate the so-called administrative state and fill the newly empty spots with conservative loyalists. It features four “pillars,” laying out a right-wing policy roadmap for the next conservative president to follow; providing a political strategy for adopting that agenda within 180 days; recruiting an “army” of conservatives who will work in that administration; and offering a training component to ensure that political appointees are “ready on day one.”

The group says it is not promoting any one candidate, and isn’t advising Trump — the Republicans’ presumptive 2024 nominee — on any specific policies. 

“Project 2025 does not speak for any candidate or campaign, and it is ultimately up to the president to decide which policies to implement,” a Project 2025 spokesperson said Monday in an email.  

Yet the coalition includes more than 100 conservative groups outside of Heritage, a number of which are led by former Trump administration officials. That list includes the Center for Renewing America, led by Russell Vought, who served as Trump’s head of the Office of Management and Budget and is now mentioned as a potential chief of staff in a second term; America First Legal, headed by Stephen Miller, a former Trump speechwriter and senior adviser; and the Conservative Partnership Institute, where Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, serves as senior partner. 

“A President today assumes office to find a sprawling federal bureaucracy that all too often is carrying out its own policy plans and preferences — or, worse yet, the policy plans and preferences of a radical, supposedly ‘woke’ faction of the country,” Vought wrote as part of the sprawling handbook laying out the Project 2025 vision. 

The cast of figures behind the campaign has not been overlooked by Democrats, who see the enterprise as a roadmap for Trump to dismantle the pieces of the government that resist anything he might try in a second term. 

“This is not fringe stuff, or things that are not right at the fulcrum of Trump and his team,” Huffman said. “This is who they are; they’re telling us what they’re going to do.”

The Democrats’ exact strategy for pushing back against Project 2025 remains up in the air. Huffman said it will likely consist of a series of public forums, in coordination with liberal outside groups, designed to educate the public “on the different elements of Project 2025 that are the most troubling.” That, in his mind, is a long list. 

“In terms of prioritizing, that’s a hard thing to do. Every one of these things is like a hair-on-fire priority,” Huffman said. 

The Project 2025 spokesperson rejected the Democrats’ criticisms that the document expands executive powers in ways that would allow a future president to abuse them.

“This is simply projection,” the spokesperson said. “President Joe Biden is the one who is abusing executive power and we are currently living under his dictatorship.” 

Huffman, who is unique on Capitol Hill for questioning the existence of an omnipotent god, suggested he’ll focus on the elements of Project 2025 that aim to promote religious tenets as policy guides — “which is really just this Christian nationalist agenda,” he said.

He’ll be joined on the task force by a number of other prominent Democrats who bring their own policy focuses, including Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), head of the House Pro-Choice Caucus; Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus; Ted Lieu (Calif.), vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the Progressive Caucus; Nanette Barragán (Calif.), chair of the Hispanic Caucus; and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a former professor of constitutional law who led Trump’s second impeachment following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. 

“This is not a leadership task force, but they know about it,” Huffman said. “And we’ll be passing along our recommendations and concerns to them for sure.”

The Democrats have a steep road ahead as they seek to counter the message coming from Trump and the conservative groups backing him, which include fundraising juggernauts. But Huffman said he’s confident that his party’s message will win out in the end. 

“They are preparing to advance plans that are deeply unpopular with most of the American people,” he said. “We’ve just got to make sure that that’s known and understood.”