Nat'l Journal: Let's face it, Biden's more interested in "pandering to progressives" than bipartisanship

Let’s face it … who expected Barack Obama’s VP to act otherwise? Even Joe Biden’s run to the center in the primaries came with a wink to his left flank. Nominate me, Biden promised, and I’ll be the bridge to the progressive future.

Now that he doesn’t have to fill the role of the Not Trump, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar wrote yesterday, Biden can now do what Republicans assumed he’d do all along. And that’s not just on the stimulus package, although that’s the canary in the coal mine:

But the stimulus isn’t the only issue on which Biden isn’t living up to his centrist sales pitch. Despite pledging to open all schools within 100 days, his administration is now kowtowing to teachers’ unions who want to keep schools closed indefinitely amid growing anger from parents. Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, sided with the unions in an interview with CNN, indicating that the stimulus legislation guaranteeing additional funding for schools was a necessary precondition for schools to begin in-person learning again. With that timetable, it’s hard to see any progress happening during the current school year.

The administration outlined an ambitious immigration-reform package on Biden’s first day in office, going well beyond the most achievable goals on the subject, like a pathway to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants (Dreamers). Instead, Biden’s proposal takes on all the tough political issues at once, creating an opportunity for all illegal immigrants currently in the country to gain citizenship. He already attempted to freeze deportations for 100 days, a move that was halted by a federal judge.

And he spent his first two weeks promoting an environmental agenda that threatens to cost jobs in the energy sector, beginning with an executive order to cancel construction on the Keystone XL pipeline. His climate czar, John Kerry, clumsily defended the move by suggesting those who lose jobs could easily find work making solar panels. It’s the environmental equivalent of President Obama’s infamous pledge on Obamacare: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.” And it’s politically toxic rhetoric to swing voters in energy-rich states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.

Taken together, the way in which the Biden administration is getting sidetracked by issues like immigration and climate change in the first two weeks in the middle of a health and economic crisis is a political red flag. The president is trying to appease the progressive interests that backed him last November, but at the long-term cost of losing track of the promises that propelled him into office—restoring unity, getting control of the pandemic, and building on the economic recovery.

I wrote about this a couple of times already. Biden wants to use the old Obama formula of making himself the definition of bipartisanship and unity, so that any criticism or dissent is definitionally partisan. Kraushaar sees past that too, noting that it’s not just the rhetoric that matters but also the choices of policies and positions to push. The COVID-19 relief bill, for instance, is probably the best forum for generating some sort of bipartisan solution — and yet, Biden not only immediately staked out a max-cost position, he inserted a minimum-wage hike as a poison pill.

Perhaps sensing that he might have gotten out too far in front of his skis with that move, Biden agreed last night to meet with a group of Senate Republicans on their counterproposal:

President Joe Biden has agreed to meet with a group of Republican senators at the White House this week to discuss coronavirus relief aid.

The meeting had been requested earlier Sunday in a letter from 10 GOP senators who are proposing a pared-down $600 billion COVID-19 relief alternative to Biden’s existing $1.9 trillion plan.

Jazz wrote about that proposal this morning. It’s not going to fly with Senate Democrats, who want to take their razor-thin majority out for a spin on Policy Highway ASAP. On the other hand, the $1.9 trillion bill isn’t going anywhere either, especially not with hobby horses like a minimum-wage hike in it. Biden might have left it in the bill to force the GOP into some major concessions to get it out, such as the bloc-grant aid to states that they oppose. If so, then Biden’s just doing old-fashioned arm twisting.

Kraushaar’s point, however, is that Biden’s pushing progressive agenda items for which there are no Republican concessions. Caving to the teachers’ unions on reopening is especially telling, for instance, because the more traditional liberal elements in Biden’s coalition has to be gnashing their teeth at this. Their view of the public school system is that it equalizes the educational experience across demographics of both ethnicity and income, at least for those who still participate in it. Progressives may see Biden’s pandering as a way to strengthen unions, but most everyone else sees this as catastrophic for children and an amplifier for inequality in their education, as more affluent families have the resources to work around it. Private schools and tutors are available for those families, after all.

This is an agenda that raises all sorts of red flags. At least when Barack Obama famously dismissed Republicans’ attempts at getting to the bargaining table by telling them “I won,” Democrats really could claim a mandate. They had 60 seats in the Senate and a large House majority in 2009. In 2021, they lost ground in the House and now only have a nine-seat majority, while the Senate is split 50/50. The only way Biden can get anything significant done is by focusing on areas of commonality between Democrats and Republicans. Thus far, it suuuuuuure looks like Biden’s more interested in posing for progressives than working for all Americans.