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Republican spin on Biden is off the mark

Associated Press/Susan Walsh

The Republican spin about Joe Biden’s presidency has taken hold: He ran as a centrist who’d promulgate bipartisan, moderate policies and appointments, but instead, they say, he’s governing as a partisan left-winger, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) directing unpopular policies and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) controlling personnel.

Calling it a “bait and switch,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) accused the president of governing like a “socialist.” McCarthy didn’t cite any means of production that have been taken over by the government.

It’s a false critique.

Biden’s initiatives are in line with his campaign’s promises. The Democrats’ more progressive liberal agenda reflects ten years of pent-up frustration over Republicans blocking most everything. Biden’s domestic policies, almost without exception, are popular with the public, though the White House foolishly has allowed the focus to be on the size rather than the specifics.

To be sure, Biden shaded a little left in 2020 in reaching accommodation with Sanders, and Warren has some clout in a handful or so appointments; she represents a considerable slice of the Democratic party.

But his record refutes the “radical” rap.

Infrastructure, where a bill still awaits passage, has long been sought by some Republicans; this produced a rare bipartisanship.

Take the children’s issue: extending the child tax credit to lift millions of kids out of poverty and which had Republican backing before Biden’s presidency, or universal pre-K, which is state policy in staunchly conservative Oklahoma and West Virginia. Those issues are supported by most voters, as is free community college for working class Americans.

On healthcare, the administration wants to expand Obamacare and provide assistance for vastly under-resourced home healthcare workers who tend to the elderly and those with disabilities.

Improving the current health care system is counter to the Sanders approach to throw it out and adopt a government-run, single-payer system.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices is wildly popular — and, Congressman McCarthy, it’s not socialism. Biden’s ambitious climate proposals still are well short of the Green New Deal; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a Green New Deal advocate, called the size of the administration’s plan “disappointing.”

On taxes, Biden proposed increases on the wealthy and corporations, offsetting the 2017 Trump tax cuts which were heavily skewed to the rich. Meeting opposition, Senate Democrats are now trying to craft a tax on billionaires, a more modest version of Warren’s wealth tax. I doubt they will succeed.

Biden’s cabinet is hardly a radical one. Janet Yellen, Lloyd Austin, Jennifer Granholm, Gina Raimondo and Pete Buttigieg, among others, are the types that could have been in a Bill Clinton or Barack Obama cabinet.

Still, critics point to the Treasury and Justice Department. Warren, they say, is in charge of the Treasury.

No, Janet Yellen is.

There are some Warren acolytes there, but in top positions there are more mainstream progressives, alumni of the Obama administration, of the Federal Reserve or top aides to moderate U.S. Senators.

Criticism of the Justice Department is even more specious. Attorney General Merrick Garland would have been a Supreme Court justice five years ago if Republicans had permitted a vote; he was confirmed as AG with bipartisan backing. Several top Justice deputies were civil rights lawyers, not in favor with the Republican party of Donald Trump. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta was attacked by conservatives for, among other things, supposedly wanting to defund the police — yet she was endorsed by more than four dozen major city police chiefs and by the usually conservative Fraternal Order of Police for her work in community-police relations.

The rap on the designated Justice Department anti-trust chief, Jonathan Kanter, a former corporate lawyer, and on Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan is “they’re anti-business.” But the criticism has focused on controversial high tech companies Google and Facebook, which now face considerable Republican opposition too. Kanter has been endorsed by some Republicans who previously held that anti-trust post; Khan was confined by the Senate, 68 to 30.

A test of whether Warren is influential or a dominant voice is whether the president reappoints Jerome Powell as chairman of the Federal Reserve; Warren strongly opposes, though Powell is supported by most Democratic Senators and former Democratic Banking committee chairs Barney Frank and Chris Dodd.

On judges, the complaints are really about diversity. Three-quarters of Biden’s appointments to the courts are women, two-thirds people of color. Over three-quarters of Trump judges were men and 85 percent white.

The reality is — with almost no margins in the House or Senate — the White House has to carefully navigate tensions between the Democrats’ relatively small, but very vocal left wing and a few moderate conservatives.

As for the lack of bi-partisanship, Biden has learned that, unlike his days in the Senate, congressional Republicans rarely have any interest in even modest accommodations. Every single Republican voted against raising the debt ceiling to cover bills run up under Trump.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Gina Raimondo Janet Yellen Jennifer Granholm Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy left wing left-wing radicals Lina Khan Lloyd Austin Merrick Garland moderate Democrats Pete Buttigieg Presidency of Joe Biden Progressive wing Right-wing politics Right-wing populism

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