ATLANTA – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden renewed his party unification efforts Monday with bookend endorsements from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the leader of the House progressive caucus that sometimes battles the speaker from the left.
The twin announcements from Pelosi and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal highlight Biden's effort to avoid a repeat of the 2016 presidential election, when tensions between establishment Democrats and the party's progressive flank hobbled Hillary Clinton in her loss to President Donald Trump.
Pelosi, a longtime friend of Biden's, is a face of the Democratic establishment and boasts perhaps the widest network across the party's wealthiest donors. Jayapal, who had previously backed Bernie Sanders for president, is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose members want sweeping expansion of the federal government's role in the economy, notably through a single-payer “Medicare for All” insurance plan that Biden and Pelosi do not favor.
The two women reflected those varied approaches Monday as they explained their common conclusion that a Biden administration is the best chance for Democrats to advance a liberal agenda, even if in degrees.
Pelosi, speaking in a video, said Biden offers “hope and courage, values, authenticity and integrity.” She said he’d be a “voice of reason and resilience” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 80-year-old speaker also cited Biden's work as President Barack Obama's vice president during the 2010 health care overhaul and the economic recovery acts after the 2008 financial collapse.
Jayapal, in her own statement, noted she has “not always agreed with Vice President Biden on matters of policy.” Yet she struck a pragmatic bottom line about the prospects of a second Trump term.
“Any progress toward a better future requires defeating him this November,” Jayapal, 54, said.
Further, the congresswoman echoed a claim Biden has repeated often amid his recent outreach to progressives. She framed his agenda as “the most progressive” for any Democratic nominee “in history.”
In particular, the 77-year-old Biden touts his preferred health care path, a “public option” government plan to compete with private insurers but not outlaw them, as a major leap forward. He's also moved toward the progressive flank, though not all the way to Sanders and Jayapal, with proposals to ease student loan debt and waive public college tuition for poor, working-class and many middle-class households. Sanders proposed forgiving all student loan debt and making all public college tuition-free.
Pelosi's support wasn't unexpected now that Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee. Her backing nonetheless reinforces Biden’s contention that he is the party’s best chance to keep the House majority and regain Senate control from Republicans.
As House minority leader in 2018, Pelosi spearheaded Democrats’ midterm House victories. The party won more than 40 Republican-held seats to take the majority and hand Pelosi a second turn as the first female speaker in U.S. history.
Most of the party’s gains came in battleground districts anchored by suburbs and exurbs, places where the Biden campaign believes he can outpace Trump in November.
Biden campaigned for many of the current House freshmen, and he often cited their victories during his primary campaign against progressive presidential rivals. He argued that Democrats succeeded in the 2018 midterms because they did not move too far to the left in historically Republican-leaning districts. Pelosi has said repeatedly that Democrats win when they recruit candidates who “fit their district.”
Biden's alliance with Pelosi, paired with his ongoing outreach to progressives, is not without political irony and risk.
The former vice president has worked for decades to cultivate his image as a working-class ally born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Pelosi, though mistrusted by the left as an establishment figure, has been a favorite target of Republicans who caricature the wealthy San Francisco Democrat as out of touch with most Americans.
Republicans have doubled down with a similar strategy on Biden as he's picked up more endorsements from progressives, including Sanders. Ultimately, those dynamics will test what is more persuasive to voters: the Republican contention that Biden's proposals are a government expansion that threatens taxpayers or Biden's contention that a liberal agenda is what would boost the middle class and overall economy.
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