The Memo: How liberal will the Biden presidency be?

The Memo: How liberal will the Biden presidency be?
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Nearly three months after President BidenJoe BidenBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE assumed office, friends and foes alike are looking for clear evidence of just how liberal his administration is going to be.

It has been hard to pin the White House down, ideologically speaking.

Is he maintaining the cautious center-left approach that he has followed most of his career? Or is he pursuing a paradigmatic shift in American politics in the manner of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society or President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal?


The answer is: a bit of both. And that holds both opportunities and perils.

Corbin Trent, a former communications director for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezMarjorie Taylor Greene may be 'dangerous,' but she's not the first Sunrise Movement endorses Nina Turner in special election for Ohio House seat Islamic Jihad commander killed in airstrike, Israel says MORE (D-N.Y.) who is now the director of No Excuses PAC, said that he has been pleasantly surprised by Biden so far — and yet worried that his proposals were still not enough.

“Asking the question ‘Is Biden being progressive?’ really misses the broader thing: Is he going far enough for what this moment needs?” Trent said.

“The answer to the first part is yes. There is a lot of domestic policy he’s done that is bigger than I thought it would be. But it is still short of where it needs to be.”

Conservatives, of course, have the opposite lament — that Biden is going much too far and, they say, using the coronavirus pandemic as convenient cover for an excessive expansion of government.

Biden has enacted a massive COVID-19 relief bill and is pushing hard for an even larger infrastructure package.


Both measures include items long sought by progressives, from an expansion of the child tax credit in the COVID-19 bill to a raft of green-friendly measures in the infrastructure package.

Those measures gladden hearts on the left, while GOP critics contend that Biden, having run as a more moderate figure than rivals such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Sunrise Movement endorses Nina Turner in special election for Ohio House seat The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Israel-Hamas carnage worsens; Dems face SALT dilemma MORE (I-Vt.). and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Helping students make informed decisions on college Student debt cancellation advocates encouraged by Biden, others remain skeptical MORE (D-Mass.), is now a captive to those leftist forces.

But the situation is entirely reversed in other respects.

Biden has been lukewarm, at best, on the progressive goal of abolishing the filibuster in the Senate. He has, to this point, maintained a fairly hawkish stance on foreign affairs — including nudging Pentagon spending up to a massive $715 billion in his proposed budget.

He has also backed off, or watered down, some campaign trail promises.

On criminal justice, it emerged on Monday that a mooted national policing oversight board has been put on ice. On taxation, a corporate minimum tax is now slated to kick in only for companies that have income of $2 billion or more. On the campaign trail, Biden had proposed a $100 million threshold. The shift will exempt an enormous number of companies.

For the most part, the White House has threaded the political needle fairly successfully, but challenges lurk.

Many Democrats, including some in Biden’s circle, say they expect to be excoriated as “socialists” by right-wing media regardless of what they do, so they profess a lack of concern on that score.

Progressives, including Sanders, have largely stayed on board when it comes to actually casting votes, even if they would like the president to be more ambitious.

Perhaps the most high-profile example of left-wing dissent so far came when Ocasio-Cortez critiqued Biden’s infrastructure plan on Twitter. The congresswoman said that the plan was “not nearly enough” and “needs to be way bigger.”

So far, however, she has not indicated that she will vote against the proposal.

Notably, after the COVID-19 measure passed, Ocasio-Cortez in an Instagram Live post advocated hard for the bill’s merits, even as she acknowledged progressives didn’t score a complete victory.

“We got it. Checks are coming out,” Ocasio-Cortez enthused. “Did we get everything we wanted? Absolutely not. But did we get things that are going to change people’s lives? Absolutely yes.”

Others on the left take exception to Biden’s approach in some places while praising him elsewhere.

Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist and Sanders supporter, complained that Biden is being too timid on taxation generally.

He called it “absurd” for a Democratic president to only propose going halfway toward reversing the corporate tax rate enacted under former President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE.

The corporate tax rate was slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent under Trump, and Biden is proposing to bring it back up to 28 percent.

But Tasini also expressed admiration that “it is indisputable that this administration, along with Congress, is putting enormous amounts of money into important priorities for regular people.” He cited extending unemployment benefits as one example.


Progressives scorn the idea that bipartisanship, in the sense of Republican votes for Biden proposals, is a realistic goal. They argue that the GOP is defined by its oppositionalism and that attempting to get Republican sign-on would only weaken Biden.

But not all Democrats see it the same way.

Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldThe Memo: How liberal will the Biden presidency be? Democrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP CBC 'unequivocally' endorses Shalanda Young for White House budget chief MORE (D-N.C.) told The Washington Post last month that, on the big issues facing the nation, “We have to have bipartisan cooperation if we’re going to tackle these items. ... And I’m not talking about one or two Republicans; I’m talking about a significant number of votes from the opposing party.”

Biden has managed to keep the lid on these tensions, but they are simmering just below the surface.


The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.