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The long transition- how Progressives may find themselves cut out of a Biden presidency, and why that may not matter

Joe Biden is choosing to restore the old White House furniture from the Obama administration, borne out of ideological preferences and political pragmatism. But whilst this so-called ‘return to normalcy’ will undoubtedly bring welcome relief for millions of Americans drained by the never-ending Trump soap opera, it also leaves the left of the Democratic Party frustrated and isolated from the big decisions. But will it really matter?

The scale of Joe Biden’s electoral victory has been underplayed by the media, largely because of the initial uncertainty of a Biden victory at all, due to the delayed counting of postal votes. But the final electoral map is convincing, with not only the Rust Belt reclaimed, but Biden also taking Arizona and Georgia for the first time since Ross Perot split the vote in the 1990s. But, any hopes of a positive impact down-ballot have evaporated under the sun, with Democrats set to carry their narrowest majority in the House of Representatives since World War Two, and the Senate hanging by a thread in Georgia. Democrats would have to win both seats up for grabs to have the barest of working majorities. 

Cabinet confirmations are typically a less partisan affair than typical Senate business, but increased party polarisation, and the prospect of Republican Mitch McConnell remaining as Majority Leader, may send a death knell to outright progressive nominations. At the time of writing, the nominations of Antony Blinken and Janet Yellen have been quietly welcomed by key Republican Senators, who have praised their experience and policy knowledge, Yellen also earning the endorsement of leading progressive Elizabeth Warren. But, fearing Senate rejection, Biden has sought to restore technocrats, the so-called ‘policy wonks’ who know their departments inside out. Alejandro Mayorkas at Homeland Security, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as Ambassador to the UN and Avril Haines as the Director of National Intelligence are unlikely to give Biden or Chuck Schumer any sleepless nights. Meanwhile, whilst the resurrection of John Kerry to frontline politics may create a clash of egos, his role as Biden’s ‘Climate Tsar’ will likely see him out on the road, a second Secretary of State travelling the world as the US tries to regain grip of the climate crisis. He will also carry the blessing of not having to undertake Senate confirmation.

So far, it is a Clintonite who has posed the most difficulty for Biden. Neera Tanden’s nomination as Director of the Office Management and Budget seems to have gaslighted Republicans unhappy with her prolific use of Twitter to criticise their conservatism. Having also vocally criticised Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign, Tanden may be unable to rely on the support of the Democratic caucus should the Republicans remain resolute in opposition. Senate arithmetic not only threatens the nominations of Biden’s cabinet, it heavily limits who he can nominate in the first place. Leading progressives such as Sanders, Warren and fellow Bay Stater Ed Markey all represent States with a Republican Governor, who would be able to pick a conservative replacement, forcing Biden to look outside of Congress for his nominations. With the exception of Deb Haaland, the New Mexico representative who is widely considered the front runner for Interior Secretary, Congressional nominations may be few and far between.

Leftist cynicism towards Biden’s Cabinet nominations may perhaps be misguided. Few people are expecting Biden to seek re-election in 2024, and I would be surprised if he serves a full term. Not necessarily due to death or ill health but the stresses and strains of power itself. Biden has experienced tragedy more often than most, and the death of his son from cancer has visibly affected him deeply. It postponed his Presidential ambitions from 2016, and whilst it furthered his steely resolve, one wonders if he will be drained by a 50-year career in the higher echelons of power. Conventional wisdom may leave Democrats panicking about an open election, but I wouldn’t be. A Biden Presidency already looks set to coincide with the mass rollout of a coronavirus vaccine and the most rapid economic growth experienced in decades. 

When I think of a possible Biden Presidency, I think of Jimmy Carter. Carter represented a Southern social conservatism which died out within the Democrats to the Liberalism of the Coasts. Biden meanwhile, as an elderly, white, Roman Catholic, represents a party that is increasingly young, multi-ethnic, and secular. The Democrats have the challenge to retain support through such politically fluid times. Nevertheless, I would be willing enough to say that regardless of who the major candidates are in 2024, the Democrats would be favourites, as it stands. Progressivism can emerge to the fore, and rebuild a ‘Great Society’ for the United States of America.

Joe Biden’s transition will far outlive January, as he will seek to reclaim the Free World for the West, and establish America on the international stage once more. Progressives will need to play a long game, acknowledging that Coronavirus has decimated the US Economy and ravaged much of society. Progress is a long struggle, and time is something the next generation of progressives have in spades. Joe Biden, for better or for worse, does not.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

By Callum Devereux

Editor-in-Chief May 2022-present
Former Deputy EIC & Opinion Editor