In President Biden’s Washington, Democrats who work across the aisle get extra credit. They’re seen as problem solvers who can bring both sides together. They give something to each party to form consensus, much like Biden himself has done for years. Or at least, that’s the hope.
But for progressives, they’re ruining almost everything. By trying to appease the party out of power, liberals say centrists have taken their eyes off the opposition. Intentionally or not, they believe these moderates are making it more difficult to mount a serious, unified assault against the GOP ahead of November.
“Establishment Democrats are Republicans’ best friends. If they would just get out of the way, progressives would love to kick Republican ass,” said Cenk Uygur, a Biden critic and host of the left-wing program ‘The Young Turks.’”
“There’s no way that Joe Biden, who has been in love with Republicans his whole life, is ever going to aggressively fight back against them,” Uygur asserted. “He would rather hug a Republican than fight one.”
The belief that moderates are making it harder for the left to fight the GOP is not entirely new. The 50-50 nature of the Senate and the variety of swing districts in the House have contributed to a consensus view that some Democrats will have to craft their legislative votes, language and negotiation style to appeal to conservatives.
As Biden loses the confidence of the public, however, the cries for a more coordinated push against the GOP have amplified significantly. Progressives want the president to stop with the bipartisan wishcasting and join them in their crusade against the other side.
“The White House does more to attack their own base than to call out the people who are actually undermining their agenda,” said Marianne Williamson, an author and activist who ran as a left-wing Democratic presidential candidate in 2020.
“When Roosevelt was constantly attacked by what he called ‘forces of greed,’ ‘economic royalists’ and those with ‘lust for power’ — basically the same forces that are blocking us now — he said, ‘I welcome their hatred,’” she said. “We need a response like that today.”
Williamson is not alone. Week after week, activists and liberal lawmakers are calling on the administration and the moderate president specifically to do more to guard against Republicans’ creeping power grab.
On Wednesday, dozens of progressive groups sent a letter to top party officials at the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee condemning the lack of a cohesive message and offering sharper talking points.
In the memo, first obtained by The Hill, activists present a clear choice between Republicans and Democrats, with the goal of having leadership circulate it to voters who may be apathetic about showing up for either party.
“The Republican Party, now led by MAGA extremists, wants to control you,” the draft letter starts. “They want the government and politicians involved in every aspect of your personal life from your health care decisions, to whom you can marry, to what you can read and say. They want to overturn and override the will of the people, to rule only for the wealthy few.”
It goes on to rationalize the lack of traction with Biden’s domestic agenda. “We fell short in passing much of our intended agenda in 2021 and 2022. Why? Because of a razor-slim Senate majority, fierce opposition from MAGA Republicans determined to block the will of the majority of Americans, and a flood of money spent by corporate lobbyists defending the interests of large corporations over the needed change for the American people.”
The acknowledgement of a “razor-slim Senate majority” has progressives particularly fired up.
The latest instance came just days ago, when the Senate’s highest-profile moderate, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), stated his opposition to moving forward on a climate and tax plan through budget reconciliation. Progressives were outraged, but not surprised, saying that the two-term senator is effectively handing the midterms to Republicans by continuing to buck Democrats’ repeated attempts to pass meaningful bills.
Biden, frustrated liberals say, has a real problem taking him to task.
“Enough with the ‘my friend Joe Manchin,’ Mr. President,” said Williamson. “He is not your friend.”
Manchin — at times joined by his colleague Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — have caused animosity within their own party’s ranks since Biden took office. But the anger goes beyond the standard Democratic infighting. With the midterms fast approaching, progressives see the pair as doing more to help the GOP than their own side, and have insinuated that they are intentionally working in opposition to Biden and his vision to move Americans forward.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took a megaphone to that anger over the weekend. In an appearance on ABC’s “The Week,” the Vermont independent, who was runner-up to Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, fumed that Manchin “sabotaged” the president’s best efforts to get Congress to get relevant legislation to his desk before the fall.
He went on to question the statement that the West Virginia senator acted out of character when he changed course over the recent climate and tax talks. “Nothing new about this,” Sanders said. “The problem was that we continue to talk to Manchin like he was serious. He was not.”
Progressives’ ire toward Manchin goes beyond the latest back and forth. He has long refused to amend or vote to get rid of the Senate’s filibuster, which has prevented Democrats from getting enough votes through their narrow majority in the upper chamber to pass more of Biden’s ambitious bills.
That stalling has worried liberals who see a return of former President Trump as highly probable, if not imminent. Recent reporting in The Washington Post and New York Magazine indicated that Trump has discussed the idea of running again in 2024 and making an announcement sooner than later.
Even with the threat of a return to GOP control on the horizon, some progressives believe bickering with moderates doesn’t help the party offer much of a defense. Republicans, who recent polls show are close enough to make the control of Congress a toss-up, will continue to attack Biden and fellow Democrats on everything from what they see as socialism to soaring prices plaguing the country.
Without ways to help bring down the cost of goods and gas, it’s harder to make the case for voters to turn out, and time spent playing hardball against conservatives would be better directed towards getting actual results, some say.
“This all reminds me of [the] George Bernard Shaw quote: ‘never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and besides the pig likes it,’” said Cullen Tiernan, political director of the SEIU’s New Hampshire chapter and a former Sanders delegate.
“The Dems in D.C. need to focus on delivering for the American people. Not playing the same endless partisan games, but actually moving the minimum wage and addressing the litany of challenges working people face in this economy,” he said.