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 BidenIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief South Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Obama alum Seth Harris to serve as Biden labor adviser: report 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 HickenlooperThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Third approved vaccine distributed to Americans Democrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's second impeachment trial begins MORE (Colo.) and Mark KellyMark KellyHouse Freedom Caucus chair weighs Arizona Senate bid Koch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill Conservative groups seek to bolster opposition to Biden's HHS pick MORE (Ariz.) — combined with enhanced profiles for Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMurkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden On The Money: Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief | Relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority | Senate confirms Biden's picks for Commerce, top WH economist Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief 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 SchumerA Biden stumble on China? First Black secretary of Senate sworn in Republican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote 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 KavanaughJustices hear sparring over scope of safeguards for minority voters Supreme Court faces landmark challenge on voting rights Will 'Cover-up Cuomo' be marching to 'Jail to the Chief'? MORE.

Schumer, who is up for reelection himself in 2022, has to balance the desire of liberals such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief Murkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: Biden says US will have enough vaccine for all adults by end of May | Biden calls on all states to vaccinate teachers by the end of March | Texas, Mississippi lift mask mandates Biden picks for financial agencies offer preview of regulatory agenda Becerra tells Warren he will do 'thorough review' of executive actions on drug prices 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 BennetDemocrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery package Democrats: Minimum wage isn't the only issue facing parliamentarian Democrats plan crackdown on rising drug costs MORE (Colo.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanPro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget Senate Democrats call on GAO to review child care access barriers for disabled parents, kids Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (N.H.), Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockTrump says 2018 endorsement of Kemp 'hurt' Republicans Kelly Loeffler's WNBA team sold after players' criticism The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan 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) TesterSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Democrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic 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 PetersDeJoy set for grilling by House Oversight panel Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack Law enforcement officials lay out evidence Capitol riot was 'coordinated' attack MORE (Mich.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Democrats offer fresh support for embattled Tanden Watch live: Schumer, Senate Democrats hold press briefing Congress holds candlelight vigil for American lives lost to COVID-19 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 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 offer bill on Puerto Rico statehood USPS adding up to 165K fuel efficient or electric delivery vehicles Democrats propose executive actions on electric vehicle acquisitions 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 PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress 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 DainesOVERNIGHT 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 Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' 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 KingOVERNIGHT 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 Senate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Biden CIA pick pledges to confront China if confirmed, speak 'truth to power' 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.’ ”