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Home Uncategorized Biden, Seeking Democratic Unity, Reaches Left Toward Sanders’s Ideas

Biden, Seeking Democratic Unity, Reaches Left Toward Sanders’s Ideas

Joseph R. Biden Jr. took some of his first steps to bring together the Democratic Party now that he is its presumptive presidential nominee, announcing proposals on Thursday to lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 60 and to expand student debt forgiveness programs for low-income and middle-class families.

The proposals are part of an explicit effort to appeal to the progressive wing of the party led by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who dropped out of the race on Wednesday.

“Senator Sanders and his supporters can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas,” Mr. Biden, the former vice president, said in a statement announcing the package.

Top Sanders aides had been intensifying talks with the Biden campaign in recent days to find common ground on policies. The Biden team’s willingness to move in Mr. Sanders’s direction was a key factor in the senator’s decision to exit the race.

It is not clear how long the warm embrace between the camps will last. Some party officials on Thursday urged Mr. Sanders to go beyond suspending his campaign and cease his efforts to win delegates to influence the Democratic platform at the party convention. One top Sanders spokeswoman took a swipe at Mr. Biden early Thursday, and some of the Vermont senator’s allies were pressing for more and deeper concessions.

”If Joe Biden wants the presidency, if he wants to beat Donald Trump, then he is going to need to make sure that he is uniting the party,” said Abdul El-Sayed, who served as a national surrogate for the Sanders campaign. “And that means being able to talk about the fact that going back to normal is not enough.”

President Trump himself began stoking Democratic Party divisions within minutes of Mr. Sanders’s departure from the race. As an incumbent who has struggled to hit 50 percent in polls against Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump has made clear that he sees an alienated Sanders base as crucial to his re-election chances.

So far Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden have sounded similar notes of alignment in their public appearances. Speaking to Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” on Wednesday night, Mr. Sanders acknowledged: “Joe, he’s not going to adopt my platform. I got that.”

“But if he can move in that direction,” Mr. Sanders added, “I think people will say this is a guy that we should support and will support.”

Mr. Biden, speaking to donors via videoconference at a fund-raiser on Wednesday, called Mr. Sanders “a powerful voice for a fairer and more just America” and previewed the incorporation of some elements of the Sanders agenda into his own. “I’m committed to seeing that these good ideas, wherever I can find them on every issue, are brought into the campaign,” he said.

The lowering of the Medicare age to 60 from 65 is a small step compared with the universal, government-run “Medicare for all” plan that Mr. Sanders has championed. But it is a symbolically significant one, given that Mr. Sanders has made expanding access to health care a centerpiece of his platform.

Mr. Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan — which would eliminate student debt for low-income and middle-class people who attended public colleges and universities, historically black colleges and universities, and other institutions that serve students of color — also does not go as far as Mr. Sanders’s plan to cancel all student debt.

Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster, said he was less concerned about party unity now than in 2016, when some disaffected Democrats who were aligned with Mr. Sanders in the primary race sat out the general election rather than vote for Hillary Clinton.

“The galvanizing force in 2020 is Donald Trump,” Mr. Hart said. Unity is “not a problem,” he added, “because the hatred and the fear of Donald Trump is more important than any single issue position which may divide the Sanders forces and the Biden forces.”

One concern among some Biden-aligned Democrats is not just what Mr. Sanders himself says, but whether the senator is willing to publicly disagree with some of his more prominent supporters and amplifiers in the progressive ecosystem who publicly undercut Mr. Biden.

Close to 2 a.m. on Thursday, Mr. Sanders’s national press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, linked on Twitter to a segment on Fox News that sought to raise questions about Mr. Biden’s mental acuity. “Bernie was too kind to go after Biden, but it’s coming,” she warned. “Either Dem leadership cares more abt maintaining a corporate status quo than getting rid of Trump, or they’re planning to replace Joe.”

The Sanders campaign said that she was not speaking for the senator when she tweeted, and that he did not share her views.

One small point of tension among Democrats is that Mr. Sanders has told supporters that, while he is suspending his campaign, he still wants their votes so he can accumulate delegates to influence the party’s rules and platform at the summer convention.

That posture has irritated some party officials, including Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the New York Democratic Party. “I challenge anyone to remember anything about any platform in any year, by any party,” he said. “Nobody follows the platform.”

“You hold the primary for the sole purpose of determining the nominee,” Mr. Jacobs added. “Anything else would be a waste of time and money. And in this case, in this year, the potential health of election workers.”

Most jurisdictions in New York, though not all, will have other concurrent primaries during the presidential primary, which has already been pushed back to June. Mr. Jacobs said he believed New York’s election board had the authority to cancel the presidential primary if only one candidate was running — there is already no Republican primary — but he said he would not press for that unless Mr. Sanders agreed.

Larry Cohen, the chairman of the Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, said it would be a “terrible idea” for New York not to hold its presidential primary.

“This is the New York party saying we don’t want voters to express their opinion about an alternative vision for the party,” he said.

He added that Mr. Sanders’s decision to remain on the ballot in remaining states was in fact crucial to party harmony, allowing his supporters to have a voice on important party rules and policies.

“There is a difference between unity and unanimity, and you only get unity if you partner with people who have a different view,” Mr. Cohen said.

In Connecticut, the secretary of state there, Denise Merrill, a Democrat, urged Mr. Sanders to formally withdraw from the ballot so the state could avoid holding a primary election.

“My first thought when he announced he was suspending his campaign was relief because we have been struggling to figure out how we’re going to hold this primary in Connecticut,” she said in an interview. Then Mr. Sanders announced his plans to stay on the ballot. “It’s very disappointing,” she said.

Connecticut has particularly restrictive rules on voting by mail, she noted. She has urged the other remaining candidates to consent to be removed from the ballot, including Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who has so far declined.

“This is the worst possible scenario for me, which is people have to choose between their health and their vote,” Ms. Merrill said. “We’re really in a bind.”

The Sanders campaign declined to comment on the Connecticut ballot.

Stephen Handwerk, the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, on the other hand, said his party intended to hold its presidential primary, which has been rescheduled for June 20. And he said he understood Mr. Sanders’s decision to remain on the ballot to try to collect delegates.

“Our position is absolutely that we still need to conduct this election,” he said, adding that Mr. Sanders “was clearly doing the math just like the rest of us were and felt like his pathway was evaporating. But he also wants to make sure that those items that he has been fighting for don’t just evaporate.”

Yvette Lewis, the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, said that she had been encouraged by Mr. Sanders’s comments since his exit. The party is “a whole lot closer than we were in 2016,” she added, because at that time Mr. Trump was a “clean slate” onto whom voters projected positive things.

“We know what he is now,” she said. “We know exactly what we will get with Donald Trump.”


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