With Sen. Bernie Sanders’ decision to drop out of the race, Joe Biden has become the presumptive nominee to lead the Democratic Party into the November Elections in the US. By adding some of the policies advocated by Sanders, the former Vice President Biden is seeking to win over his rival’s loyal band of progressive supporters, many of whom lack enthusiasm for the former vice president and his establishment brand of politics.
Joe Biden, faced with the daunting task of uniting and energizing a party that has been through a long, divisive primary, and is now distracted by the fears and daily challenges of a global pandemic and world economic collapse, said, .“It’s time to come together and unite around our presumptive nominee,” Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez said Wednesday.
Biden issued a statement last week that praised the Vermont senator’s leadership and welcomed his followers to his camp, and invoked Sanders’ campaign slogan. “I’ll be reaching out to you. You will be heard by me. As you say: Not me. Us,” Biden said.
In his efforts to win over the supporters of Sanders, Former Vice President Joe Biden released plans to expand Medicare eligibility and forgive some student debt as he works to unite a fractured Democratic base behind his presumptive 2020 presidential nomination.
Progressives say Biden will have to do far more — by way of policy, personnel and choice of vice president — to broaden his support on the left, especially among young people.
“They are looking for something more than just, ‘We have to stop Trump,’” said Ben Wessel, executive director of NextGen America, a progressive super PAC that is on track to register 300,000 young voters in 11 battleground states this election cycle. “He has to recognize the new reality we are in right now, especially with coronavirus. We have a bunch of young people feeling like their economic future is completely screwed.”
Sanders’ exit now allows Biden to work with the Democratic National Committee to raise money. They have plans to launch a joint fundraising committee that can solicit checks from donors in the tens of thousands of dollars. Contributions to the campaign itself have a $2,800 federal limit.
One avenue for Biden to energize and unify the party could be his choice of a running mate. He’s committed to picking a woman, and his campaign is expected to set up an operation for vetting candidates as soon as next week.
If Biden chooses a progressive like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a former rival, it could help fire up the left and young people. He is also under pressure from some quarters to pick a woman of color. Other Democrats believe a strong progressive on the ticket could be a liability in a general election and would favor a more centrist woman like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or another former rival, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll illustrated the political risk to Biden if he does not bring Sanders supporters into the fold between now and election day. The poll found that if Biden were the Democratic nominee, 80% of Sanders supporters would vote for Biden, and 15% would go to Trump. That would be a slightly higher rate of defection than in 2016, when post-election analysis found that 12% of those who voted for Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the primary went with Trump in the general election.
Biden, however, is drawing support from the anti-Trump wing of the GOP: The Lincoln Project, an organization of disaffected Republicans, endorsed Biden. At a virtual fundraiser, Biden invited former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel to headline the event with him. That won’t go over well with some progressives and young people who think his call for bipartisanship is naive.
Senior Biden aides have been opening lines of communication with progressive groups, including old-line organizations such as Planned Parenthood and activist start-ups like Indivisible.
But many other Sanders supporters are more wary. A letter to Biden from several large progressive advocacy groups including NextGen, Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement urged Biden to quickly pivot off a “return to normalcy” campaign theme. “For so many young people, going back to the way things were ‘before Trump’ isn’t a motivating enough reason to cast a ballot in November,” the letter said.
Biden announced last week that he would lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60 and forgive federal student debt for low-income and middle-class people who attended public colleges and universities, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), and underfunded minority-serving institution (MSI).
The proposals mark an initial olive branch to supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), some of whom have expressed skepticism at Biden’s centrist brand of politics and were dismayed when the Vermont progressive withdrew from the race Wednesday. Biden specifically referenced Sanders’s advocacy for the two issues in a Medium post announcing his plans.
“I believe that as we are being plunged into what is likely to be one of the most volatile and difficult economic times in this country’s recent history, we can take these critical steps to help make it easier for working people to make ends meet,” Biden wrote. “Senator Sanders and his supporters can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas, and I’m proud to adopt them as part of my campaign at this critical moment in responding to the coronavirus crisis.”
Under Biden’s plan, Americans would have the option of opting into Medicare when they are 60 or stick with the plans provided by their employers. The proposal is intended to complement Biden’s overall health care plan to provide a public option to any American who wants it while expanding the Affordable Care Act.
Biden’s student debt plan calls for forgiving all federal undergraduate student loans from two- and four-year public colleges and universities and any private HBCUs or MSIs for debt-holders earning up to $125,000. The plan builds on Biden’s existing student loan plan to cancel $10,000 of student debt per person, forgive federal student loans after 20 years and more.
A Biden administration would pay for the student debt plan by repealing the “excess business losses” tax cut in the recently passed $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package. The former vice president said in a statement he will be releasing further details for his proposals “in the future.”