You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Bernie’s congressional backers want Biden to buy in on progressive agenda

POLITICO logo POLITICO 4/8/2020 By Sarah Ferris and John Bresnahan
Pramila Jayapal standing in a room: Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks at a Bernie Sanders rally in January. © Andrew Harnik/AP Photo Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks at a Bernie Sanders rally in January.

For Democrats desperate to beat President Donald Trump in November, Joe Biden is their only hope left. But now comes their real challenge — unifying the party.

Progressives on Wednesday lost their champion in Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who dropped out of the race for the White House after acknowledging the insurmountable lead held by the former vice president.

The Democrats’ more liberal members now must decide whether to support their formal rival, despite long-held skepticism of his positions on key issues like Medicare for All, climate change and immigration.

COVID-19 Symptoms Survey
Help researchers at the Regenstrief Institute track the outbreak
Go to the survey

Biden’s own statement made clear that he’s not going to take progressives’ support for granted, or assume their loathing for Trump will overcome the left’s dislike for the moderate wing of the Democratic Party.

“Joe Biden needs to reach out to Bernie’s supporters. I think among the best ways is taking elements among the issues Bernie championed with such passion and embracing them,” said Rep. Chuy García (D-Ill.), one of the handful of House members who had backed Sanders’ campaign.

García added that the coronavirus crisis has only increased the need for universal health care, although Biden has focused on incremental steps for expanding Obamacare rather than embracing Medicare for All.

“I think it provides a great opening and a point of reference for [Biden] to acknowledge the need for a different system and one that helps provide security [to those] who are uninsured, or under-insured, or have expensive health-care plans they can’t afford,” García added.

Garcia said he planned to endorse Biden after speaking to the former vice president or his campaign officials.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a campaign rally at Salina Intermediate School on March 7, 2020 in Dearborn, Michigan. Sanders has said his competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden, could beat President Donald Trump in November, but added that he would be the stronger general-election candidate. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images) © Bill Pugliano/Getty Images Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a campaign rally at Salina Intermediate School on March 7, 2020 in Dearborn, Michigan. Sanders has said his competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden, could beat President Donald Trump in November, but added that he would be the stronger general-election candidate. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), another top progressive and Sanders’ supporter, plans to back Biden as well, but also made clear that she wants him to embrace the agenda put forth by party liberals.

"My feeling is that the coronavirus is showing us why we have to have guaranteed health care," said Jayapal, a co-leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in an interview.

Jayapal — who noted that her Seattle-area district was one of the first regions of the United States to get hit by the pandemic — said there are "interim steps" that Democrats can unite around short of universal health care, including expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, moves that would win support from both all factions within the party.

"Vice President Biden has to step up and acknowledge all the energy and enthusiasm behind all of this," Jayapal added, pointing to the support Sanders got from Democrats across the country."

For many Democrats on Capitol Hill, there is an urgency to unite the two factions of the party to avoid a repeat of 2016, when some progressives refused to back Hillary Clinton following the brutal primary fight with Sanders. That antipathy to Clinton helped create an opening for Trump, and the president's campaign wants to exploit the intra-Democrat divide again this year.

“Four years ago, we didn’t come together. We simply cannot let that happen again,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who has been aggressively neutral in the race after sounding as a bellwether in 2016 that divided Democratic loyalties could deliver her home state to Trump.

Dingell, a strong supporter of Medicare for All, added that Sanders’ platform could still have lasting implications for the 2020 race, especially as the coronavirus pandemic refocused attention on America's health-care system.

“It’s very hard right now to be political,” Dingell said in an interview, acknowledging the toll of the virus that has killed at least 14,000 people in the U.S. But within a few months, Dingell said,“We’ve got to unite as a party and remember what we’ve lived through.”

Debbie Dingell talking on a cell phone: WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 19: Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) speaks with MSNBC to discuss U.S. President Donald Trump's comments about her late husband, former Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), at the U.S. Capitol on December 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump suggested Dingell was © Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images) WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 19: Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) speaks with MSNBC to discuss U.S. President Donald Trump's comments about her late husband, former Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), at the U.S. Capitol on December 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump suggested Dingell was

Biden has tread lightly as he has sought to win over Sanders supporters, stressing his own personal relationship to the senator — a sharp contrast to Clinton's approach in 2016 — and being careful not to be seen as applying pressure to switch camps.

In a statement shortly after Sanders’ announcement, Biden made a personal appeal to his one-time rival’s base: “Bernie’s supporters: I know that I need to earn your votes. And I know that might take time.”

“But I want you to know that I see you, I hear you, and I understand the urgency of this moment. I hope you'll join us,” Biden wrote.

In recent weeks, Biden has taken some noticeable steps toward the left on certain issues: He’s backed a proposal from Sanders on student debt and one from Elizabeth Warren on free college, although Biden barely budged on his opposition to Medicare for All, a critical issue for progressives.

That could change, many progressives believe, as a wave of Americans are forced to seek treatment for the coronavirus pandemic. Already, more than 400,000 in the U.S. have contracted the virus, with many requiring hospitalization. Public support for single-payer health care surged in March, according to a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll.

Progressives also point out that Biden still lacks the kind of voter enthusiasm, particularly among young people, that has powered Sanders both politically and financially since launching his first presidential bid in 2015.

Biden’s campaign was already working behind the scenes to address the gap, reaching out to left-wing organizations like Indivisible and the climate-focused Sunrise Movement even as Sanders remained in the race.

Several of those groups, including Invisible, released a public letter to Biden on Wednesday laying out dozens of policy goals, pressing him to adopt the framework of the Green New Deal, to support Medicare-for All and to support free tuition for public colleges.

But the wish-list goes further: Progressives want Biden to support eliminating the filibuster and expanding the Supreme Court, to support the legalization of marijuana, and to appoint an attorney general committed to “dismantling ICE.”

Sanders’ decision to leave the race, effectively crowning Biden as the Democratic nominee, was a remarkably low-fanfare occasion as the nation battles its worst health crisis in generations.

The fallout among members of Congress — many of whom had been fixated on the race in the months before the coronavirus outbreak — was equally muted. Few Democrats besides Sanders’ most loyal supporters were quick to weigh in on the race.

Unlike some of his earlier challengers, Sanders had always maintained a small group of congressional endorsements. Just eight Democrats in Congress had endorsed him.

Still, many lawmakers in the 100-plus member Congressional Progressive Caucus were rooting for Sanders and hoped he could secure policy concessions from Biden in the months leading up to what was once envisioned to be a contested convention.

Those hopes faded in recent weeks. First, after Biden trounced Sanders in stunning fashion on Super Tuesday on March 3, and then when the former vice president racked up more wins and solidified his lead a week later.

Since then, the focus of Sanders’ supporters in Congress has shifted to ways that the Vermont senator can exert his power at the convention and beyond.

Speaking on a video stream on Wednesday, Sanders told supporters that he would actively apply pressure to the Biden campaign on his policy positions, calling Biden “a very decent man who I will work with to move our progressive ideals forward.”

And in a notable show of power, Sanders said he would keep his name on the ballot through the Democratic convention in a bid to influence key decisions like the party platform.

“While Vice President Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible,” Sanders said.

AdChoices
AdChoices

Politico

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon