Dems wonder: Has Biden gone ... MAGA?

An exaggeration? Probably not to progressive Democrats. Since Joe Biden’s attempt to rally his base in the State of the Union speech a month ago, they see Biden’s actions moving his White House closer to that of his predecessor.


That’s not an exaggeration, anyway. First, Biden directly contradicted his commitment in that SOTU to independent statehood for DC by endorsing a rare congressional override. Nearly at the same time, his administration began tacking back toward a Trump-era immigration policy on family detentions that Biden himself had explicitly criticized.

Most importantly, as Semafor highlights this morning, Biden has failed to engage with Democrats on any of these moves. That leaves progressives with a whiff of MAGA, or at least a large worry about where Biden will shift to the right next:

President Biden’s abrupt shift toward a tougher “law and order” stance on crime and immigration has progressives nervous about where he’s headed next.

“I am concerned,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Semafor.

While Jayapal said she’s normally reluctant to “second guess” Biden too much, the administration’s confirmation that it may revive family detentions at the border — a policy Biden personally denounced under Trump — is stirring fears within the caucus about a tack to the right with profound human consequences.

They’re probably worried more about the profound electoral consequences — and rightfully so. While Biden won’t ever go full MAGA, he may have decided to try a triangulation strategy from the Bill Clinton playbook. After getting his nose bloodied in 1994. Clinton moved rightward on crime and fiscal policy, pre-empting and co-opting the GOP agenda to a large extent and setting the stage for his re-election in 1996. (It didn’t hurt that Ross Perot ran as an independent again and that Republicans nominated an elderly Robert Dole rather than the more youthful Jack Kemp.)


If that’s what Biden has in mind, though, he hasn’t followed the Clinton playbook closely enough. Clinton had the energy and talent to organize his party for that triangulation strategy, even though at the time it wasn’t popular within the progressive ranks either. Biden doesn’t even appear to have made an effort to do so, Instead, he’s left House Democrats blindsided and holding the bag, and Semafor reports that they’re furious over it. And they’re not terribly quiet about it:

Semafor had earlier reported on Eleanor Holmes Norton’s reaction to Biden’s change on the DC:

President Biden told Senate Democrats during a closed-door lunch that he would sign a bill revoking changes to the D.C. criminal code, shocking House Democrats who were an hour’s drive away in Baltimore at their caucus retreat.

“This is news to me, and I’m very disappointed,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. said after being told of the president’s decision by a reporter at a press conference with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.


Roll Call reported yesterday that Norton’s colleagues were no more impressed with Biden’s outreach on immigration policy either:

The apparent moves to ramp up controversial immigration enforcement policies have rankled those congressional Democrats who have pushed President Joe Biden to adopt more humane immigration policies — especially since Biden blasted the previous administration’s policies during his campaign for the White House.

Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico all separately said Tuesday that any plans to detain migrant families had not been discussed at the February meeting with Mayorkas.

“The lack of communication on immigration-related policy decisions is an insult,” Menendez said. “It would be like making civil rights legislative ideas and thoughts without checking with a congressional Black office. Not acceptable.”

Semafor also caught up with Menendez, who still was seething over the double-cross from Mayorkas and Biden:

“There are other things that can be done to achieve the goals they want, but they do not consult with anyone,” he told Semafor. “I’ve been doing this for the better part of 20-plus years and there are a series of ideas that could be helpful to them that doesn’t follow, like lemmings off the cliff, the Republican mantra on all of that.”


In fairness, 33 Senate Democrats went with Biden on the DC override. Whether that was lemmings off a cliff or a momentary flash of reality on crime issues is anyone’s guess, but it still reflects a major split among Democrats on social policies like crime and perhaps even immigration. And that reflects a growing unease among voters about community safety and security that Democrats up to now have either ignored or made worse.

So has Biden wisely chosen to triangulate on those issues to get closer to the American center? Maybe, but it’s just as easy to believe that Biden’s doing what he always does — play checkers in a 3-D chess world. If this was a deliberate triangulation strategy, the SOTU would have been the time to lay that out. If Biden truly wanted to change directions, he would have had his Cabinet officials working with Democrats in Congress to change direction on legislation. It would take deep strategic thought, planning, organization … none of which Biden has shown the least bit of talent for doing.

Biden acts on whimsy and personal, momentary views of what benefits himself most. He’s as unreliable as a Midwestern weather forecast, and just as changeable. Most of the electorate belatedly discovered the same thing in 2021 when Biden shifted sharply leftward after running as a centrist. Progressive Democrats may only be discovering that now, but that’s a product of their willful ignorance, not any sudden change in Biden. For the rest of us, that’s just chickens coming home to roost.


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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 25, 2024