Biden’s alliance with the left worked, but will it last?

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden was not the progressives’ first choice for the White House in 2020. And he wasn’t her second or third either.

But contrary to expectations, during the president’s first two years in office, the Liberal Democrats have emerged as the president’s staunchest allies in Congress, helping deliver a massive COVID-19 relief package, a historic investment in American infrastructure, and billions of dollars to fight the virus say goodbye to climate change.

Their alliance was as fruitful as it was improbable. And it could soon be put to the test.

Democrats are bracing for losses in Tuesday’s election that could cost them their majority in the House and Senate, an outcome that will surely raise questions about the party’s direction as Biden considers another run for the White House . Republicans, optimistic about their chances of regaining power, are preparing an onslaught of investigations into Biden’s administration and will certainly seek to unravel his legislative accomplishments.

The dynamic between Biden and his party’s liberal flank is that lawmakers insist she will unite Democrats behind Biden, even as some openly say they don’t want him to run for re-election and others complain complain that the President is too willing to compromise.

“The White House will need allies to defend the president against the bogus investigations Republicans may try to launch,” California Rep. Ro Khanna, a former co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, said in an interview. “The White House will need Dems to defend the White House’s economic record.”

The movement of progressives into the Biden camp met with a lot of resistance.

They are separated by generations and ideologies, with the 79-year-old Biden — a creature of the consensus-driven Senate who fondly recalls how he himself was able to work with segregationists — hails from a party establishment often disdainful of younger lawmakers Color who want bold points of view on climate change, racial justice and other issues.

But as Biden emerged victorious from the Democratic primary and general election in 2020, he strove for party unity, forming a joint task force with the Sanders campaign to set an agenda.

The result was a Biden wish list very similar to that of the left: comprehensive COVID-19 relief, family tax credits, free community college, universal childcare, public works spending, action to combat climate change.

The White House also struggled to nurture ties with Democrats, who could have been its loudest critics.

Over the past year, either Biden or senior White House officials have met with members of the progressive faction at least half a dozen times, notably when the president directly called for a gathering of the group just before last November’s infrastructure vote. Biden has appeared alongside House progressives on at least seven trips to her districts in September and October.

According to a White House official, the caucus receives a lot of attention from elsewhere in the administration because at least 10 cabinet members or agency heads have met with the progressives in the past year.

The Bureau of Legislative Affairs has appointed Alicia Molt-West, a former assistant to Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., as its primary liaison to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and she is in touch almost daily. The leader of that faction, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, has had a direct line with the highest echelons of the White House, particularly Chief of Staff Ron Klain, and this has empowered her and expanded her influence among other lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“She was a great partner of mine and worked very closely with me,” Biden said of Jayapal at an April event in Auburn, Wash.

“One of the things that the President has said to me — and I really feel it — is that we stand behind him,” Jayapal told The Associated Press. “We’ve been the loudest and best advocates for the president’s agenda, and we’ve worked really hard to get the country on board that agenda.”

Despite a few notable exceptions, much of progressives’ wish-lists are becoming law, a testament to Democratic lawmakers’ willingness to accept what is politically possible.

“Two years ago, few would have guessed that we would be able to pass the largest climate law in history, write direct checks to millions of Americans, pass the first major gun safety law in a generation, and raise up to $20,000 Forgive student debt,” said Minnesota Assemblyman Ilhan Omar, a member of the Caucus leadership.

These efforts were not without pain.

To their chagrin, the progressives had to back down their initial insistence that a bipartisan infrastructure bill be accompanied by a separate welfare spending package, which would represent the party’s most ambitious priorities. Then came the spectacular collapse of Biden’s negotiations with Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., just before Christmas, triggering the very scenario progressives had long feared.

Tensions seemed to flare up again last week when a caucus letter signed by 30 lawmakers urging Biden to start direct diplomatic talks with Russia over his invasion of Ukraine sparked a violent backlash.

When talk arose that liberal support for arming Ukraine was now in doubt, several Democrats in the letter dismissed this, saying it was signed months ago at a different point in the war. The caucus eventually withdrew the letter while insisting there was no daylight between the group’s position and Biden’s.

Even after that, senior White House officials tried to quell anger within the party.

Klain, Biden’s top aide, told at least one frustrated House Democrat who wanted to say something publicly about the letter that Democrats need to focus their energies ahead of the election on Republicans and not on each other, according to two officials not authorized to do so publicly, discussed privately Conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

But cracks with the left have been the exception, not the rule, during Biden’s tenure. Progressives, almost certain to be re-elected from deep blue districts, are making plans to use their platform at the next convention to push the party back in a progressive direction.

“If the Democrats lose some power in this election, the White House and the party as a whole will benefit from very clear distinctions on popular issues like Social Security, and progressives are the ones who are inherently better equipped to go full force.” to champion these popular economic priorities,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and former adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran for president in 2020.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.

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