With just three weeks until Election Day, it’s a near-sure thing Biden will be elected president. But even if he can defeat Trump, take back the Senate and hold the House, Biden will have to navigate an environment no Democratic president since Carter has dealt with: a House Caucus with more high-profile, left-wing members. The left wing is ascendant, unlike during the Obama and Clinton administrations, which were constrained by more conservative House Democrats.
There have always been some progressives among predominantly moderate congressional Democrats: Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Rep. Barbara Lee and Sen. Bernie Sanders, to name a few. But there was never a significant, progressive media and fundraising infrastructure to support them. That has changed dramatically just in the last four years.
“The Squad” made headlines as a quartet pushing House Democrats to the left. Trump and right-wing maniacs have used every dog whistle imaginable to attack these four women, but Justice Democrats, the leftist group that backed Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, has been more concerned with challenging Democratic incumbents rather than Republicans.
And they took down some towering figures this year. In the 2020 primaries, Justice Democrats and their allies defeated a powerful committee chairman and the scion of a St. Louis dynasty, won open primaries and even defended a progressive senator from a Pelosi-backed moderate.
By taking down such high profile and powerful members, the progressive wing of the House Caucus will not only have more voting power, but a greater ability to threaten the establishment. Reps. Engel and Clay were two of Pelosi’s closest allies, so other established members will likely be looking over the shoulders and loudly moving to the left in order to avoid the same fate as their former colleagues. Even the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, has been moving left and holding Ocasio-Cortez close as he eyes his 2022 reelection.
So how will Biden handle this growing crop of progressive legislators if he’s president? Well, it seems like he’s already dropping the ball. Mondaire Jones, the presumptive next representative for New York’s 17th District, has advocated for court expansion in the face of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation. Biden refuses to tell us his opinion. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey wrote the Green New Deal together, and they both survived primary challenges from more moderate candidates this year; however, Sen. Kamala Harris refused to embrace the plan during the vice presidential debate. If Biden and Harris want to avoid a challenge from the left, they need to make some concessions on at least a few left priorities.
In 2010, the Tea Party overtook the House Republican Conference, and organized themselves into the conservative House Freedom Caucus. In 2017, the Freedom Caucus killed the Republicans’ health care bill.
The Justice Democrats are poised to hold a similar level of influence within their own party; they won’t cast a majority of votes, but their commitments, media infrastructure and fundraising prowess will be a constant source of power from within the Capitol building.