Biden's challenge: Satisfying the left

Biden's challenge: Satisfying the left
© Getty Images

Joe BidenJoe BidenSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Giuliani says he discussed Biden with Ukrainian official MORE will need to navigate a gauntlet of tricky progressive policy issues when he enters the race for president.

The Green New Deal. Medicare for All. Expanding the Supreme Court. Reparations.

All of these issues and more represent potential landmines for the former vice president, whose decades of centrist leadership in the Senate run counter to the progressive insurgency energizing the political left.


Biden has made the case to fellow Democrats that he can capture the nomination by running from the center, and that he can beat President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE in 2020 by winning back working-class voters in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Indeed, many Democrats see Biden as the best hope for reclaiming the Rust Belt.

“I’ve seen the polling, and it’s pretty darn impressive,” Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction FARA should apply to Confucius Institutes The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal MORE (D-Del.), a close Biden friend for nearly 40 years, said in a statement emailed to The Hill. “Joe runs well among Democrats — traditional Democrats, people on the left, people in the middle, people on the more conservative side. He is strong with independents. And there’s a surprising number of Republicans who like him, and, as we know, will vote for him.”

But the energy is on the left, and Biden’s more liberal rivals — including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 candidates have the chance to embrace smarter education policies Bernie Sanders Adviser talks criminal justice reform proposal, 'Medicare for All' plan Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKrystal Ball: Elites have chosen Warren as The One; Lauren Claffey: Is AOC wrong about the Electoral College? Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (D-Mass.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race MORE (D-Calif.) — are embracing issues that are firing up the progressive base. It’s those voters who will play a big role in picking the Democratic nominee next year.

That dynamic creates a number of difficult decisions for the 76-year-old Biden, who would enter the primary as the front-runner but who also faces a long, hard slog to the nomination.

“It won’t be easy,” one Democratic strategist said. “He’s going to have to find a way to appeal to a progressive base that just isn’t feeling centrist values right now. They don’t want someone who works with Republicans. They want the exact opposite.”

One Biden ally said the former vice president will face a “delicate dance” to convince staunch progressives that he’s someone they should support.

“I think that people who support Joe Biden support Joe Biden and if you ask people ‘who can win in a general?’ Joe Biden wins every day — and if that’s your primary motivation, that’s your primary motivation,” the ally said.

This ally questioned whether those looking for a more progressive voice would ever side with Biden.

“If someone says ‘Joe Biden doesn’t support the Green New Deal so I’m not going to support him,’ they’re probably looking elsewhere. I think those people are gone, to be honest.”


Biden is unlikely to try to transform himself into a progressive hero with full-throated endorsements of reparations, Medicare for All and adding justices to the Supreme Court, say longtime allies and aides.

They predict he is more likely to embrace parts of some progressive policies, and that he will be “rooted in reality,” as one longtime ally put it, as to what legislation is likely to make it through Congress.

“There are elements in some progressive policies that he may embrace but I think he can point to some parts of the Green New Deal, for example, that are completely aspirational,” said another longtime Biden ally.

Other centrist voices already in the Democratic race may have laid the groundwork for Biden.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill MORE (D-Minn.) during a CNN town hall last month called some progressive proposals “aspirations.”

“I think we can get close. I don’t think we are going to get rid of entire industries in the U.S.,” Klobuchar said of the Green New Deal, an environmental push to create green jobs and lower the threat from climate change.

“This is put out there, as an aspiration, in that it’s something that we need to move toward. Do I think we could cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ in 10 years? Actually I think that would be very difficult to do,” Klobuchar said.

It’s been a race to the left for many Democratic candidates.

Harris, Sanders, Warren and Booker have endorsed the Green New Deal, a plan championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezStudents retreating from politics as campuses become progressive playgrounds Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Poll: Voters split on whether it's acceptable for Israel to deny Omar, Tlaib visas MORE (D-N.Y.) to get 100 percent of electricity in the U.S. from renewable energy sources. So have Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill MORE (D-N.Y.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Nearly all of those 2020 hopefuls have also backed Medicare for All, a single-payer health system panned by establishment Democrats as too extreme and radical when Sanders rallied behind it during his 2016 campaign for president.

Warren on Monday called for the abolition of the Electoral College and a committee to look at reparations.

Both issues, along with the idea of adding seats to the Supreme Court, are getting serious attention by candidates in the race.

“I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that,” O’Rourke said Tuesday, of ending the Electoral College.

Biden is already facing a barrage of attacks from the left. Justice Democrats, a group of progressive insurgents aligned with Ocasio-Cortez, has called the two-term vice president and six-term Delaware senator “out of touch.”

“Biden is opposing where the center of energy is in the Democratic Party, which is with Bernie’s 2016 platform — a platform that Warren, Harris, Gillibrand, Booker, and other Dems are unified around and expanding,” said Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid.

“Democratic voters are going to want a candidate who will help voters get Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and end mass incarceration and deportation,” Shahid said. “We don’t need someone who voted for the Iraq War, against gay marriage, and for the Bankruptcy Reform Act.”

Biden already is trying to pre-empt some of the coming attacks. At a dinner with Delaware Democrats over the weekend, Biden told a friendly crowd in Dover he had the “most progressive record of anybody running” for president. He quickly clarified that he meant “anybody who would run” for president, since he has not formally entered the race.

Close friends and allies say Biden won’t launch what would be his third presidential bid until April. But he told one House Democratic lawmaker recently that he was all in for 2020 and asked for that lawmaker’s endorsement.

Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondHouse Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Democratic lawmakers support Bustos after DCCC resignations MORE (D-La.), who has been personally encouraging Biden to run, argued that the other 2020 Democrats can’t hold a candle to Biden’s progressive record. As a senator in 1990, Biden authored and helped push through the Violence Against Women Act, landmark legislation designed to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman four years later, Biden played a pivotal role in passing the 1994 crime bill that included a decade-long ban on assault-style weapons.  

And as a key member of the Obama White House, Biden fought for the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Paris climate deal, Richmond said.

“I think it’s absolutely a different time, but at the same time he benefits from his eight years of actually being in the White House, pushing progressive ideas, pushing the envelope,” Richmond said in a phone interview Tuesday from New Orleans.

“He will be very practical in his approach. He can say, ‘When I was in the White House, we signed onto the Paris climate accord and took an active role in making sure it would happen.’ Where I’m from, people say: Did that, been there.

“I don’t think he needs to reinvent himself. I think he can be who he is.”