A Blueprint for Social Movements During the Biden Presidency

Joe Biden’s central campaign message focused on a struggle to “restore the soul of America”. Now we are fighting for the soul of the Biden Presidency. Like Barack Obama’s presidency, this will be constant terrain of struggle – sometimes hostile, sometimes open to progressive and social movements.

The complex dance of party leaders and movements is an American tradition, and the dynamic of today’s Democratic Party under Biden is no different. While progressives failed to get our candidate to the top, we know we can now lead our group through the wilderness with a bold and urgent vision. Here are five ways progressives need to enforce this vision:

1) The battle for the soul of Biden’s administration and staff. Progressives breathed a sigh of relief when Ron Klain was selected as chief of staff over Bruce Reed and Steve Ricchetti, two men who are ideologically hostile to them. Reed is a deficit hawk infamous for his roles as the architect of Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform and as the executive director of the Bowles-Simpson commission, which sought to urge Democrats to work with Republicans on cutting programs like social security. Ricchetti was a lobbyist at Big Pharma and worked for industry groups that were vehemently against Medicare for All.

Klain’s appointment was followed by an announcement that Ricchetti had been given a less prominent, but still influential, position alongside Representative Cedric Richmond, a leading Democratic recipient of fossil fuel company donations. The Sunrise Movement, Justice Democrats (the organization I work for), and others criticized the Ricchetti and Richmond appointments, saying their selections only underscored the need for Biden to fill his administration with progressive leaders who are free from corporate influence. Since then, Biden has appointed progressives such as Xavier Becerra, Deb Haaland, Jared Bernstein and Heather Bouchey to its administration. That number, however, is skimpy compared to the 40 percent of House Democrats who are part of the Progressive Caucus of Congress.

Senator Chris Murphy has warned that Mitch McConnell, the current and possibly future Senate majority leader, could block Biden’s cabinet selection process – presumably as an incentive to select more GOP-friendly candidates. Instead, Democrats must make it clear that they defeated Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes. If McConnell wants to obstruct the process, Biden should announce that he is ready to fill his cabinet with a number of acting or hiatus officials.

2) The struggle for the soul of Biden’s political agenda. The president-elect has announced that he will use his mandate to achieve results for the greatest crises of our time: public health, climate change, systemic racism and the economy. His appointment of John Kerry as climate officer shows that Biden is making climate protection a priority. After the progressives pushed for an office for climate mobilization, Biden elected Gina McCarthy and Ali Zaidi, allies of the climate movement, as heads of domestic climate policy. He can also use his executive powers through the Treasury Department to shift financial flows from fossil fuels to climate solutions and instruct his cabinet to create millions of jobs by starting converting all federal buildings to 100 percent clean energy.


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