In April 2020, Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign, thus making former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for that year’s general election. To his credit, Biden promptly made a good-faith, constructive effort to bridge the party’s divides by forming a series of task forces consisting of elected officials, policy thinkers and activists from both the moderate and progressive wings. The surprisingly progressive policy platforms published by those groups assuaged left-wing Democrats’ fears of Biden and gave them stronger reasons to support him in November. But the events of last week may have caused irreparable rifts within the party.
Last Thursday, Biden ordered the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes on a number of buildings in Syria that are used by Iranian-backed militias in the war-torn country. The bombings — which were carried out without approval from Congress — were a response to a series of rocket attacks that targeted American and coalition forces in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. No Americans were killed in the strike, but that did not stop Biden from launching seven 500-pound bombs at the Syrian facilities. The Pentagon described the act as a “proportionate military response,” while progressives in Congress like Ilhan Omar, Bernie Sanders and Ro Khanna criticized Biden’s decision and questioned the legality of the strike.
Biden’s domestic actions have also strained progressives’ abilities to bite their own tongues.
At a CNN town hall earlier this month, President Biden told attendees he would not use his executive authority to cancel Americans’ student loan debt, a proposal supported by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has called student loan debt forgiveness “the single most effective economic stimulus that is available through executive action.”
Last week, as Democrats moved Biden’s COVID-19-era stimulus bill through Congress, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour could not be included in the American Rescue Plan as it is a business mandate and not a budgetary measure permissible under the reconciliation process. This makes it nearly impossible for Biden to fulfill one of his signature campaign promises as the $15 wage increase will now require a 60-vote supermajority and it’s inconceivable that 10 Republican senators will agree to such a measure.
The story is made even more interesting knowing that MacDonough does not have final say on the matter; her role is purely advisory. President of the Senate and Vice President Harris, has the right to overrule her. Yet, Biden made clear he will not pursue this vital wage hike for fear of disrespecting the Senate’s process.
Biden’s failure to deliver on these progressive priorities, whether it is because of a lack of will or a lack of ability, will only make him more unpalatable to the left. If Biden can’t make some measure of course correction in the next 18 months, he will head into the midterm elections with a hopelessly divided party.