Progressives look to make early mark on Biden White House

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WILMINGTON, Del. – Leading progressives are pressuring President-elect Joe Biden to embrace their policy agenda even as more centrist Democrats argue such proposals prevented the party from retaking full control of Congress.

For now, much of the lobbying centers on who Biden should — or should not — appoint to key posts as he builds out the administration that will take office in January.

The left-leaning think tank Progressive Change Institute partnered with more than 40 activist groups and on Friday released a detailed list of 400 progressive policy experts they want Biden to bring on. That follows a separate effort from more than half a dozen progressive groups this week that signed letters urging the president-elect against naming anyone with ties to major corporate interests to key Cabinet posts.

“Now is absolutely the moment to push Biden to do what’s necessary to meet the moment," said David Segel, a former Rhode Island state representative and executive director of Demand Progress, which was among those signing the letters. "And that means a robust economic response, a robust health care response, a willingness to push back against concentrated corporate power that’s fomenting inequality. And he has a mandate to do all of that.”

The jockeying amounts to the opening round of what is likely to be a lengthy debate over the future of the Democratic Party. Some centrists have blamed losses in the House and a disappointing performance in the Senate on Republicans' ability to paint Democrats as having moved too far to the left.

That’s creating tension for a party that should be basking in the glow of defeating an incumbent president for the first time in nearly 30 years.

"We’re a big family. There’s lots of different parts to the family,” said Mitch Landrieu, the former Democratic mayor of New Orleans who has a reputation as a political centrist. “It’s a welcome discussion because the country is changing dramatically, and we have to think of how to navigate into the future.”

Much of the focus will be on how Biden fills out his administration. In a letter earlier this week, top progressive groups asked Biden to “decline to nominate or hire corporate executives, lobbyists, and prominent corporate consultants to serve in high office.”