Joe Biden Plots His Vision of Party’s Future, Dismaying Progressives

Joe Biden will send an unmistakable message about his vision for the Democratic Party on Tuesday night, and it will sound a lot more like him than the party’s progressive wing.

Rather than the traditional convention keynote that can fuel one star’s rise — like young Senate candidate Barack Obama in 2004 — Biden’s team chose 17 people to share in delivering the coveted slot, all of whom largely share his center-left philosophy.

The move, despite Bernie Sanders’s plea for unity on Monday night, frustrated progressives for not sufficiently highlighting the left wing of the party — Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, for example, is the only member of the Squad of four liberal first-term congresswomen to get a speaking slot and it’s only one minute.

At 77, Biden has made it clear he sees himself as a “bridge” to a new “generation of leaders.” He has already anointed future leaders in Kamala Harris, his running mate, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The list of keynote speakers fills out the deeper bench of Democrats that Biden wants to elevate.

They are not the flame-throwing progressives unseating longtime Democratic members of Congress — in fact, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is only scheduled to speak for one minute on Tuesday night. Most are not vocal advocates for Medicare for All or the Green New Deal. Instead, the group of speakers includes two moderate members of Congress from swing districts, three openly gay men of color and four women of color.

“It’s a look toward what a Joe Biden and Kamala Harris administration will look like,” said Long Beach, California, Mayor Robert Garcia, one of the speakers, who first endorsed Harris when she ran in the presidential primaries and then backed Biden. “Vice President Biden has consistently talked about being a bridge to the future and that’s what this is, all the different and diverse young voices.”

But it is their policy preferences that are most noteworthy. None of the progressives backed by Justice Democrats who knocked out incumbents in primary contests this year, including Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush and Marie Newman, are part of the program.

Rather, the keynote speakers include Representative Colin Allred of Texas and Representative Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, both political moderates who flipped Republican seats after Donald Trump was elected. Other speakers were prominent Biden supporters during the primary: South Carolina State Senator Marlon Kimpson, Nevada State Senator Yvanna Cancela and Pennsylvania State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta.

“They speak to the diversity of our country and share a commitment to making unprecedented investments in our competitiveness, to rebuild the backbone of our nation, the middle class, to tackle climate change, and defeat systemic racism,” Andrew Bates, a Biden spokesman, said in a statement.

The most high-profile speaker is Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her 2018 gubernatorial bid in Georgia that would have made her the first Black woman to lead a Southern state. Abrams did not endorse a candidate during the primary, but Biden considered her as a running mate and the two share a pragmatic approach to politics.

Yet progressive groups who have largely rallied behind Biden’s campaign after he became the de facto Democratic nominee in March are disillusioned by the keynote roster. Despite their policy disagreements with Biden, they are largely mobilizing their supporters to back him. Some progressives were furious when the campaign rolled out 17 future leaders and none of them really represented the left wing of the party.

“It’s not exactly a list of rising progressive all stars,” said Evan Weber, the political director of the Sunrise Movement, the progressive group backing the Green New Deal.

Weber did point out that Representative Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, who supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor Randall Woodfin, who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders, were exceptions. Still, Weber said, there were plenty of others to choose from.

“It’s bad politics,” Weber said. “Biden has said that he’s a transitional figure and he’s followed that up on other points by saying, ‘I want to create more space in the party for Pete Buttigieges of the world.’ If you look at the young people, they are not all that enthusiastic of the Pete Buttigeiges of the world. They were rallying largely around Bernie Sanders and the ideas that he represents. For young voters, it’s not about age. It’s about the age of your ideas that matter.”

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