Democratic fissures start to show after Biden’s first 100 days

Fissures within the Democratic Party are starting to open up after a three-month period in which liberals and centrists showed impressive unity at the opening of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Democrats rallied around one another in the divisive months after Biden’s victory over former President Trump, never more so than when a mob fueled by misinformation about the election overwhelmed police and sacked the Capitol.

Yet in recent days and weeks, the divides in the party that have always been present have opened up over issues near and far, from foreign policy to tax and spending issues central to Biden’s domestic agenda.

There is growing sniping over whether the Biden administration should pressure Israel to stop the eviction of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem, an issue that puts Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a longtime staunch ally of Israel, in the spotlight.

Violence is now flaring up as Israel and Hamas trade strikes, with some Democrats expressing displeasure with Biden’s handling of the situation.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in a tweet Saturday called on the Biden administration to “make clear to the Israeli government that these evictions are illegal and must stop immediately.”

Warren on Tuesday said, “it’s crucial that we help dial down the violence.”

“This cycle of escalation will not end well for anyone if it stays on its current path. If America wants to be a good friend to both the Palestinians and Israelis, we need to help them de-escalate,” she said.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, weighed in over the weekend, tweeting that “evictions of families in East Jerusalem would violate international law.”

Progressive Democrats dissatisfied with the Biden administration’s soft handling of the situation in Israel will have leverage when Biden nominates his ambassador to Israel, who will have to go through Senate confirmation.

But some Democrats are pushing back on characterizations by colleagues that plans to relocate Palestinian families in East Jerusalem are illegal or violations of international law.

“I’m glad he’s come to that conclusion,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said with a faint hint of sarcasm when asked about Van Hollen’s pronouncement.

“I don’t know. I’m not an expert in international law to come to that conclusion. All I know is the Israeli Supreme Court has postponed a decision and we’ll see what their decision is. I’m not about to pre-empt whatever they decide under Israeli laws,” he said.

Menendez noted the Biden administration has already called for de-escalation.

The senior Democrat instead sought to put the focus on the actions of Hamas.

“They should also make very clear that rockets from Hamas [fired]indiscriminately into civilian areas in Jerusalem and elsewhere is condemnable and should be condemned,” he said.

Schumer on Tuesday declined to say whether he agreed with Warren’s call for the Biden administration to put pressure on Israel to halt planned evictions in East Jerusalem.

“I hope both sides can come together and bring peace,” he said when asked about Warren’s statement.

Schumer said he does not yet know the timeline for when Biden will nominate a new ambassador to Israel or when that person will receive confirmation hearings and a Senate vote. 

Centrists and liberals are also at odds over lifting a ceiling on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which was capped at $10,000 by the Trump tax-cut bill to pay for corporate tax cuts. The ceiling hit blue suburban districts hard, but progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)  argue lifting the cap would help wealthy households.

This is a setback for Schumer, who pledged last year that repealing the Republican-enacted cap on SALT deductions would be a top priority if Democrats took back control of the Senate.

A group of House Democrats from New York and New Jersey are warning they may not vote for an infrastructure package if it doesn’t include a repeal of the SALT cap.

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.) told The Hill in March: “No SALT, no deal.”

Another issue sparking debate within the Senate Democratic caucus is the size of Biden’s infrastructure agenda, which is publicly projected to cost $4.1 trillion but could wind up costing a lot more if all of its elements are scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

“It’s a lot of damn dough, it’s a lot of money,” Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), a moderate Democrat in a state easily won last year by Trump, said Tuesday. “I don’t think we’re going to be at $4 trillion in the end.”

Tester said while there’s certainly a lot of need for infrastructure investment, Congress should pay for at least half of the cost.

But if the SALT deduction cap is repealed, it means that lawmakers will have to come up with hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue to cover the budget impact of that provision alone.  The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated in 2017 that reform of deductions in Trump’s tax bill, including the cap on the SALT deduction, would produce $668.4 billion over 10 years.

Progressives including Sanders and Warren are calling for beefing up Biden’s infrastructure agenda.

The two senators also want to lower the Medicare eligibility age in the American Families Plan, with Warren setting age 55 as a target.

Warren also wants to spend substantially more on universal child care. Warren wants to allocate $700 billion, substantially more than the $225 billion proposed by the White House — or $425 billion when Biden’s child care and prekindergarten proposals are combined.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Chris Van Hollen Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Jon Tester
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