'Biden has a very complex and broad coalition to manage'

The results exposed a divided party, with moderates and progressives exchanging barbs in the past couple of weeks about the reasons for the absence of a “blue wave.”

(photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – While US President-elect Joe Biden has been moving quickly to fill the positions in his cabinet, one question that remains open is the influence the progressive part of the Democratic Party will have on the administration.
For Democrats, the elections were a success at the presidential level, but were disappointing at the congressional level. In the House, they maintained control but lost seven seats. In the Senate, they hoped to flip multiple states and gain a majority, but failed.
The results exposed a divided party, and moderates and progressives have exchanged barbs about why the party couldn’t ride a “blue wave.”
“They’re both right,” said William Galston, Brookings Institution senior fellow. “There’s no contradiction between those two positions because [Rep. Abigail] Spanberger is saying ‘we lost seats in moderate districts because of your demands,’ and that’s probably true. AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] is saying ‘we brought millions of voters, who otherwise wouldn’t vote, into the system. That’s true, too.... Unfortunately, the voters who came into the system didn’t live in the jurisdictions that were most closely contested. So there’s no contradiction between those statements.”
Galston, who holds the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, said Biden has a very complex and broad coalition to manage.
“Clearly, [the progressives] want to be included,” he said. “They want a number of high-level appointees who reflect their views. They have submitted a detailed list of potential candidates for all the senior positions in the government. And I think there’s no doubt that some of the positions will go to people individually supported by progressives.”
Galston explained that Biden would need to balance between the different factions within the party, both in appointments and executive actions. He noted that because Biden was brought to power on the shoulders of a broad coalition, his cabinet and other senior appointments are going to have to reflect the complexity and diversity of that coalition.
“I can’t tell you which positions will go to which people, but I would be very surprised if his cabinet selections were all moderates and no progressives,” he said.
However, speaking about the impact of the progressives on legislation, Galston predicted that “it will probably not be very great” in the next two years, unless Democrats pull an upset in the Georgia runoff elections in January.
“If they do, they would control the US Senate by the narrowest possible margin, and might be in a position to incorporate some progressive demands into legislation if all 50 Democratic senators agree, which is by no means inevitable.”
Halie Soifer, executive director for the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said that as Biden develops his legislative agenda, he will continue to bridge policy differences within the Democratic Caucus and ensure all voices are heard.
“Progressive Democrats were a part of the largest political coalition in American history that elected Joe Biden,” she said. “But no one segment of this coalition will change Joe Biden’s views.”
According to Soifer, Biden has made his policy positions clear throughout his career, in his campaign and in the Democratic Party Platform, “which was unanimously adopted this summer and underscores Democrats’ strong support of Israel.” She said Biden will continue to surround himself “with leaders who share his values, including on Israel, as demonstrated by his national security appointments.”
SOME REPORTS indicated that Biden could name senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to cabinet positions, such as secretary of labor or head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Sanders did not hide his desire to get the job, telling AP that he would like “to focus on the many crises facing working families in this country.” He added it would be “enormously insulting” if Biden “ignored the progressive community.”
However, some Democratic insiders speculated that given that the two represent Vermont and Massachusetts, it is unlikely the president-elect would appoint them. The reason is that both states have a Republican governor, and when a sitting senator leaves his seat, the governor is the one who appoints an interim successor.
Sanders told AP that Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has promised to fill the seat with an independent whom Democrats like.
Mark Mellman, president and CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, said the administration will be like the campaign.
“There were some issues where Joe Biden had very different views than the far Left – like Israel and healthcare – and he took them on and beat them. He beat them to the nomination and beat them on the platform,” he said.
“There are other issues like climate change and COVID, where there was more common ground and Biden incorporated their ideas and made compromises,” he continued. “And I think that’s what we will see in the administration. Biden will work with the far Left of the party where he can and follow his own North Star where he has to.”