Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives

The new strength of Democratic moderates in the Senate may temper just how aggressively Democratic leaders can push for President BidenJoe BidenJapan to possibly ease COVID-19 restrictions before Olympics 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday China supplies millions of vaccine doses to developing nations in Asia MORE’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and other priorities, including climate change legislation.

The addition of two new Democratic moderates to the Senate — newly elected Sens. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperOn The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Bipartisan infrastructure group grows to 20 senators Senator's on-air interview features carpooling colleague waving from back seat MORE (Colo.) and Mark KellyMark KellyOn The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Bipartisan infrastructure group grows to 20 senators Past criticism of Trump becomes potent weapon in GOP primaries MORE (Ariz.) — combined with enhanced profiles for Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Manchin meets with Texas lawmakers on voting rights Schumer tees up sweeping election bill for vote next week MORE (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), has strengthened the centrist wing of the caucus.

The growing influence of party moderates has put one of Biden’s priorities, a proposed increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, in serious trouble, and complicates other plans on immigration and climate change.


It also raises questions about whether Democrats will stay unified on Biden’s proposed spending target, $1.9 trillion, which has sparked concerns that its size could lead to inflation.

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees Overnight Energy: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process Wednesday | Bipartisan bill would ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics | Biden admin eyes step toward Trump-era proposal for uranium reserve GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' MORE (D-N.Y.) hasn’t had to worry as much about protecting moderate colleagues after four of them lost reelection in 2018, shrinking the Democratic caucus to 47 seats.

Former Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Bill Maher blasts removal of journalist at Teen Vogue Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (N.D.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Jan. 6 commission vote delayed; infrastructure debate lingers into June Missouri Republicans move to block Greitens in key Senate race Democratic Kansas City, Mo., mayor eyes Senate run MORE (Mo.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemings raises million after announcing Senate bid against Rubio Russia threatens to leave International Space Station program over US sanctions Nikki Fried, only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, launches challenge to DeSantis MORE (Fla.) lost in a brutal midterm election for Democrats, which a few of them blamed in part on liberals going too far in the bitter fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughThe ACLU's civil war over old values: Free speech only for the woke? McConnell sparks new Supreme Court fight Supreme Court confounding its partisan critics MORE.

Schumer, who is up for reelection himself in 2022, has to balance the desire of liberals such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders opposes Biden Interior nominee in procedural vote Briahna Joy Gray on how Sanders changed the healthcare conversation Sanders 'delighted' DeSantis asked White House to import Canadian prescription drugs MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Democratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks NYC progressives anxiously watch Maya Wiley's ascent MORE (D-Mass.) for bold action with the political interests of colleagues up for reelection in swing states next year — including Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetPast criticism of Trump becomes potent weapon in GOP primaries Hillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Senators introducing B bill to help narrow digital divide MORE (Colo.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOn The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Bipartisan infrastructure group grows to 20 senators Senate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees MORE (N.H.), Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Past criticism of Trump becomes potent weapon in GOP primaries Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin MORE (Ga.), and Kelly.

Democratic strategists predict he’ll do that by focusing on issues with the broadest consensus support within his conference, such as COVID-19 relief, and try to downplay more divisive questions.


Manchin, who says he opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, has attracted the most attention, but he’s not the only Senate moderate that Schumer needs to watch.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Judge halts Biden pause on new public lands oil leasing | Democrat presses Haaland on oil and gas review | EPA puts additional delay on Trump lead and copper in drinking water rule Democrat presses Haaland on oil and gas review How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress MORE (D-Mont.) said earlier this month that while he supports increasing the minimum wage, “there has to be some conversation about how it’s done and it can’t be done like that,” snapping his fingers.

Democratic moderates flexed their muscle last week when they voted for several Republican amendments during a marathon voting session to set up a special path to pass Biden’s coronavirus relief package with a simple majority next month.

Eight Democrats — Manchin, Sinema, Hickenlooper, Kelly, Tester, Hassan, Gary PetersGary PetersAbsences force Senate to punt vote on Biden nominee Senate Democrats investing M in Defend the Vote initiative Senior Biden cyber nominees sail through Senate hearing MORE (Mich.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate crafts Pelosi alternative on drug prices Lobbying world Schumer tactics on China bill reveal broader trade strategy MORE (Mich.) — voted for an amendment to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving direct stimulus payments or other tax-based temporary financial assistance from the next COVID-19 rescue package. 

Seven moderate Democrats also voted for an amendment to prohibit the Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing rules and guidance to ban hydraulic fracking in the United States.


Those “yes” votes included Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyMcConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats Senate filibuster fight throws Democrats' wish list into limbo Parliamentarian changes Senate calculus for Biden agenda MORE (Pa.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichFBI warns lawmakers of violence from QAnon conspiracy theorists Overnight Energy: Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline | Government watchdog finds failings, but no Trump influence, in clearing of Lafayette Square Democrats blast Biden climate adviser over infrastructure remarks MORE (N.M.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Bennet, Hickenlooper, Manchin and Tester.

Jim Kessler, a former aide to Schumer and executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, said the votes are examples of what Schumer will have to deal with. But he argued the centrists can actually help Schumer and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi Pelosi says she's giving Senate more time on Jan. 6 commission Ocasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality MORE (D-Calif.), casting them as key for the party to retain the House and Senate majorities.

“There will be places where the centrist wing will make necessary corrections that work with the interior of the country and I look at these centrist members as not just majority-makers for Schumer in the Senate and Pelosi in the House, but these are the folks that are going to be able to get legislation across the finish line,” said Kessler.

“You’ll see progressive enthusiasm tempered on occasion but there’s a lot of synergy on the broad goals,” he added.

Kessler said centrist Democrats could pose the biggest obstacle to Biden’s climate agenda, depending on how aggressive his White House and Democratic leaders push on the issue.

“I expect we’ll get a climate deal, but that’s going to take a lot of work. There are a lot of Democratic senators that are in extraction states,” he added.

Manchin and Tester voted for an amendment last week sponsored by Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesGOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE (R-Mont.) to reverse Biden’s action to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, an executive order he issued his first day in office.

Kelly, Manchin and Sinema voted for another Republican amendment to expand health savings accounts, which the 47 other members of the Democratic caucus opposed, while Manchin and Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOn The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections GOP rep: If Biden doesn't evacuate Afghan interpreters, 'blood will be on his hands' Bipartisan infrastructure group grows to 20 senators MORE (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, teamed up to support a GOP amendment making it a priority to take into custody illegal immigrants charged with crimes resulting in death or serious injury.

None of the votes had the effect of law since they were amendments to a budget resolution that won’t be signed by Biden, but they show the challenges Schumer will have in keeping his caucus unified.

“A majority built on members from red and purple states is certainly nothing new from Democrats. The key, particularly with a slim margin, will be striking a balance between allowing those members to demonstrate their independence with keeping the caucus unified on critical votes,” said Matt House, a Democratic strategist and former Schumer aide.


Biden himself acknowledged Friday that his proposal to boost the minimum wage to $15 will likely fall out of the COVID-19 relief package, which will need all 50 votes in the Senate Democratic Conference to pass.

“My guess is it will not be in it,” he told CBS News in an interview with Norah O’Donnell. “I don’t think it is going to survive.” 

Some Democratic strategists interpreted that concession as giving cover to Senate and House moderates.

“That’s probably why he did it,” said Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist.

“I think Biden put the $15 in knowing it was a straw man,” he added. “That would show, OK, the progressives want it, I’m going to put it in. But I’m going to back that out and give some cover to the moderates, but now I have leverage with the moderates to come back and say, ‘I helped you, you got to help me on something else.’ ”