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De Blasio launches 'Progressive Agenda' in D.C.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks outside the U.S. Capitol on May 12, 2015, in Washington, D.C. De Blasio joined with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and union representatives to call for a "progressive agenda to combat income inequality." Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

WASHINGTON -- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday launched a "Progressive Agenda" in a bid to start a national movement to pressure Congress and presidential hopefuls to back measures to improve working people's pay and benefits while taxing and reining in the wealthy.

De Blasio staged the news conference on the first day of a three-day national trip to promote his progressive views, drawing criticism for neglecting his constituents back home.

Under a bright sun near the Capitol, de Blasio and about three dozen liberal lawmakers, labor leaders and civil rights activists hailed the 13 agenda items in what is in effect a rebranded-for-the-left Contract with America.

"The Progressive Agenda comes down to a very simple concept: We need to reward work again. . . . Work, not wealth," de Blasio said. "We'll be calling on leaders and candidates to address these issues, to stiffen their backbones, to be clear and to champion these progressive policies."

Last evening, de Blasio met with President Barack Obama at the White House, where they talked about expanding opportunities for all Americans with programs like universal pre-K and Obama's My Brother's Keeper Intiative, a White House official said.

Missing from de Blasio's coalition were the two New York lawmakers who set Democratic policy and messaging in Congress: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.); and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington). Neither of them responded to a request for comment on the agenda.

As a new poll showed his approval rating dropping, de Blasio defended his national campaign, saying it's necessary to build a coalition to change the political debate on how states and Congress can support policies to help cities.

"What my city needs happens right here," he said, "and right now the political environment will not allow us to get the changes we need and the support that we need."

De Blasio said the agenda was drafted by progressives who met at Gracie Mansion on April 2, and admitted it was still a work in progress, as some speakers pointed out omissions, such as public education and police accountability.

Many of the 13 agenda items he touted are backed already by many Democrats: raising the minimum wage to $15, overhauling immigration laws, requiring paid sick and family leave, and allowing students to refinance their college debt.

Other issues, such as opposing trade deals that help corporations at the expense of jobs, workers and the environment, are trickier.

While many speakers hailed a Senate procedural vote that set back Obama's bid for authority to negotiate a major trade deal, de Blasio focused on the agenda.

Asked whether Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton should break her silence on her position on it, he carefully answered, "I think all leaders need to address the issue in their own way."

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