Progressives wary as Biden talks compromise with GOP

Progressives are warning Joe Biden about compromising with Republicans, saying they will hold him accountable if he moves too much toward the center if he is elected president. 

The former vice president has increasingly signaled a willingness to cooperate with Republicans as he takes a bigger lead on President Trump in national and statewide polls, a stance some interpret as a strategy to win over independents and even some Republicans who may be abandoning Trump, who has seen his approval numbers slide.

During a speech Friday to the National Education Association’s virtual Representative Assembly, Biden said change will take compromise and compromise “is not a dirty word.”

“It’s how our government was designed to work,” the former vice president and longtime senator from Delaware added. “I’ve done it my whole life. No one’s ever doubted my word, and I’ve been able to bring Democrats and Republicans together in the United States Congress to pass big things, to deal with big issues.” 

The words have been noticed by progressives, who are warning Biden not to stray too far, either during the campaign or if he wins election. 

“Biden is transparently taking a bet to win over a group of anti-Trump Republicans but at the expense of what? Potentially losing some of the largest movements in history?” said progressive activist Nomiki Konst, who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic presidential primary.

She and other progressives also warn it could cost Biden by reducing voter enthusiasm on the left in November. 

“His excitement is extremely low and that should always be alarming for candidates. It’s the Hillary Clinton strategy all over again,” she said. 

Others pointed to the Obama White House as proof that compromise is not an option. 

“It’s very hard to understand why after going through eight years of the Obama administration that Joe Biden thinks we’ll be able to carve out grand deals with Republicans,” said Neil Sroka, the communications director at Democracy for America, which was supportive of both Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the primary. “It’s mind-boggling, really, given how intransigent they’ve been. The only explanation is that he can’t imagine another way to pass policy, and that’s unfortunate.”

“The way we’ll get Republicans to the table is by having a progressive movement in the Democratic Party that is strong enough to force them there,” Sroka added. “That’s the key.”

Progressives voiced suspicions of Biden throughout the Democratic primary as he battled and then defeated candidates such as Sanders and Warren.

He was never the favorite of the left, and his positions on the Iraq War, the 1990s crime bill signed into law by former President Clinton and banking legislation, among other issues, drew criticism from progressives.

Yet to Biden and many of his supporters, the former vice president’s primary victory should serve as a reminder that to win back the White House, he should not move further to the left — especially now that he has a lead in polls over Trump. 

“Biden’s campaign is predicated upon his ability to bring back moderates that supported Trump, which now looks more likely than ever considering how the president has comported himself during these crises,” said Basil Smikle, who served as executive director of the New York State Democratic Party and supports Biden. 

Smikle said the key for Biden is to win states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, where appeals to the center could make the difference. 

“Despite progressives wanting him to hit ideological themes more intensely, the Biden campaign needs to focus on an Electoral College strategy especially now that states like Florida are in play,” he said.

A Biden ally also noted the primary results. 

“Democratic voters sent a clear and unambiguous message in the primary when they overwhelmingly chose Joe Biden as their nominee,” the ally said. “They want someone who will bring the country together not only to send Trump packing, but to get us back on track after four years of his division and hate.”  

In an effort to appease progressives, Biden has moved to the left on a number of policy issues. Earlier this year, he backed Warren’s bankruptcy proposal and has signaled support for Sanders’s policies on student loan debt and health care funding policies. Biden’s team also worked alongside Sanders’s team in task force groups in recent weeks to reach a consensus on issues like immigration and climate change. 

Sources familiar with the task forces say the findings will be available in the coming days, a move that could help progressives support Biden. 

But political observers say Biden finds himself in a difficult situation with a party that is still splintered even as it unites around the idea of defeating Trump. 

If Biden does win in November, it will make governing that much more difficult.

“He’ll be in a bind,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and the author of the new book “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.”

“Barring an unlikely landslide victory, he will face a GOP just as obstructionist as before. And in his efforts to reach out, progressives will be frustrated. The notion that there will be a path to normalcy after November, regardless of who wins, is based on a mythological view of how the party ended up this way.” 

Konst said Biden should “take a tip” from Sanders, who has worked with Republicans on bills “but he never compromised with them at the risk of hurting working people.”

Others warn they will hold Biden accountable and appear to be getting ready for the internal Democratic battle that could come with a Biden administration. 

“We should be investing time in building a much more powerful movement that will have to, without a doubt, fight a President Biden and a tidal wave of corporate interests who never go away and will have the usual access to the White House,” said Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist.

Tags 2020 Democratic presidential primary 2020 election Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Newt Gingrich

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