Despite whatever Politico might have you think, the left continues to be extremely skeptical of president-elect Joe Biden. His cabinet picks, for example—one aspect of Biden’s agenda progressives felt hopeful they might be able to influence—have quickly become a lost cause. But there are plenty more battles to be won, and the stakes are too high to leave anything on the table.
Wasting no time, members of “the Squad” have called on Biden to use his executive power to enact a slate of progressive policies, including cancelling student loan debt, declaring the climate crisis a state of emergency, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and reinstating temporary protected status for immigrants.
Members of the party’s progressive wing—now much larger with incoming members Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush—are using both official and unofficial channels to pressure Biden.
According to a report from NBC News, Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has met with the Biden transition team, and provided them with a list of executive actions backed by the progressive coalition. But many of Omar and her colleagues’ demands are also spelled out in an online petition that anyone can sign. And last month, Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Mondaire Jones, Omar, Bowman, and Bush held a press conference encouraging Biden to “be brave” and implement the bold progressive agenda many of the young people and people of color who begrudgingly voted for the president-elect want to see.
It seems to me that what Politico calls “Biden optimism” is actually just smart political calculus: The left now has more organizing power, more leverage to make demands, and more evidence that the policies they’re pushing for are popular ones.
The slogan “push Biden left” has become something closer to a meme or a sarcastic joke than a serious mandate. It’s clear that Biden doesn’t want to be pushed left, nor does he seem to be on the brink of a radical change of heart anytime soon. But the progressive members of the Democratic Party know that moving Biden on issues like climate and student loan forgiveness is about building consensus at the grassroots as well as negotiating on Capitol Hill. And in fact the former can be much more effective. It’s not about asking, or even demanding—it’s about doing.
As Sam Adler-Bell, a writer who covers the left, put it to me last month: “We’re not going to push Biden left, we’re going to make interventions that force his hand.”