WASHINGTON — For Democrats celebrating president-elect Joe Biden’s projected victory, the joys of vanquishing President Donald Trump are likely to be short-lived as the party faces daunting challenges ahead.
The Democratic Party has big plans — from defeating the coronavirus to expanding health care access to tackling climate change to expanding voting rights to overhauling criminal justice.
There will be tension between progressives who want to pursue an aggressive agenda and moderates who want to strike a note of unity and seek cooperation with Republicans after a bruising election.
As he begins to roll out his transition plans, Biden can expect to feel the heat from the left wing of his party quickly.
“There’s not going to be a honeymoon because there was no wedding,” said Ezra Levin, the co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible. “This is a partnership. It’s a partnership to save democracy. Nobody is under any illusions that the reforms we want to see are just automatically going to happen.”
“The reason there can be no honeymoon period is we don’t have much time,” he added. “We’ve got to hit the ground running.”
Biden campaigned on bringing the country together and pursuing an ambitious progressive agenda.
He will face major hurdles:
- Unless Democrats flip two outstanding seats in Georgia, Republicans will control the Senate and have a veto on his legislative agenda, Cabinet picks and judicial nominees;
- Democrats have a shrunken House minority that will limit their runway;
- The new 6-3 majority conservative Supreme Court could restrain the executive actions Biden may pursue without Congress.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., the most moderate Democrat in the chamber, called on his colleagues to put partisanship aside and “pursue bipartisan solutions” to America’s problems.
“Now, more than ever,” he said, “it is time for us to come together to end the toxic political tribalism and invest in the values and principles that make our nation the greatest country on Earth.”
But liberals will insist on the opposite.
“I know Joe Biden likes to consider himself a dealmaker but this is not the 1970s anymore,” said Waleed Shahid of the activist group Justice Democrats, which is allied with progressive lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “Any sort of toxic deals with Mitch McConnell will likely demobilize the Democratic electorate.”
Shahid said progressives will push Biden to use his executive authority to advance “major parts of his agenda, particularly the climate crisis.”
Georgia’s Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are bracing for runoffs on Jan. 5 against Democratic opponents Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively. Unless both GOP incumbents are defeated, the chamber will be run by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
If so, Biden will be the first president since 1989 to take office without full control of Congress.
“This is uncharted waters for two polarized parties in the modern era,” Shahid said.
Either way, the left of the party intends to keep the heat on.
“We’re going to introduce Medicare For All — believe me, we are,” Sanders said a conversation with the so-called Squad days before the election. “Green New Deal — we ain’t giving up on that.”
Ocasio-Cortez, on the same call, praised Sanders for challenging the Democratic Party apparatus to be bolder and said their collective efforts will “prevent the rightward drift of the Democratic Party.”
Senior Democratic aides said they’re waiting to see whether McConnell will take a defiant or conciliatory posture in the wake of Biden’s victory.
“Senate Democrats will be on two tracks,” said one Democratic aide. “First, to accomplish the policy changes we believe the nation needs, we are going to have to work furiously to win Georgia. Second, we need to get a sense of McConnell’s posture. Does McConnell want to deal or slide back in Obama-era obstruction?”