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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 BidenBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Myanmar military conducts violent night raids Confidence in coronavirus vaccines has grown with majority now saying they want it 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 HickenlooperSenate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Third approved vaccine distributed to Americans Democrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic MORE (Colo.) and Mark KellyMark KellySenate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants The eight Democrats who voted 'no' on minimum wage Democratic centrists flex power on Biden legislation MORE (Ariz.) — combined with enhanced profiles for Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSunday shows preview: Manchin makes the rounds after pivotal role in coronavirus relief debate Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Schumer insists Democrats unified after chaotic coronavirus debate 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.

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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 SchumerBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Ron Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor 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 HeitkampCentrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Harrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports MORE (N.D.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEverybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats GOP senators criticized for appearing to pay half-hearted attention to trial Hawley watches trial from visitor's gallery MORE (Mo.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Florida Democrats mired in division, debt ahead of 2022 Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives 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 KavanaughTrump promises to travel to Alaska to campaign against Murkowski Disgraced former media darling Andrew Cuomo must resign, but more for this reason Justices hear sparring over scope of safeguards for minority voters MORE.

Schumer, who is up for reelection himself in 2022, has to balance the desire of liberals such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSinema pushes back on criticism of her vote against minimum wage, implying that it's sexist Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Schumer insists Democrats unified after chaotic coronavirus debate MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Philly city council calls on Biden to 'cancel all student loan debt' in first 100 days Hillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case 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 BennetSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Democrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery package Democrats: Minimum wage isn't the only issue facing parliamentarian MORE (Colo.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants The eight Democrats who voted 'no' on minimum wage MORE (N.H.), Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockAdvocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout 'Bloody Sunday' to be commemorated for first time without John Lewis LeBron James's More Than A Vote ad campaign focuses on defending voting rights 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.

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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) TesterSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants Democrats break COVID-19 impasse with deal on jobless benefits 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 PetersSenate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants Democratic centrists flex power on Biden legislation Alarming threat prompts early exit, underscoring security fears MORE (Mich.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSchumer insists Democrats unified after chaotic coronavirus debate Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants Democratic centrists flex power on Biden legislation 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.

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Those “yes” votes included Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Senate Democrats call on GAO to review child care access barriers for disabled parents, kids Democrats blast Trump team videos: 'False equivalency'  MORE (Pa.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocrats worry Senate will be graveyard for Biden agenda Democrats offer bill on Puerto Rico statehood USPS adding up to 165K fuel efficient or electric delivery vehicles 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 PelosiTrump White House associate tied to Proud Boys before riot via cell phone data Greene sounds off on GOP after Hill story 'Bloody Sunday' to be commemorated for first time without John Lewis 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 DainesSusan Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine Indigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland 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 KingSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote The eight Democrats who voted 'no' on minimum wage Justice Democrats call moderates' votes against minimum wage hike 'unconscionable' 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.

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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.’ ”