WASHINGTON — Progressive lawmakers in "the squad" want to see President-elect Joe Biden use executive actions to cancel student loan debt, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for federal contractors, declare climate change a national emergency and more.
Biden will likely have a tough time passing major legislation, even if Democrats win next month's Georgia runoffs and narrowly retake the Senate, so liberals are urging him to make use of the power of the office without involving Congress.
"We've all seen what it’s like trying to get meaningful legislation past Republicans in the Senate," Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., told NBC News. "We know that there is a lot that can be done at the executive level."
Omar, who has met with Biden transition officials and said she was "quite happy" to find them receptive to her ideas, submitted a list of potential executive actions that include some proposed by others on the left, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Omar and others, including fellow squad members Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., along with incoming Reps.-elect Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., and Cori Bush, D-Mo., want Biden to forgive tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt per student — something Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recently said he supports — which the president may be able to do since the federal government issues the vast majority of student loans.
They also want to see Biden reinstate the "temporary protected status" for immigrants cut off by President Donald Trump. They want the federal government to beef up anti-monopoly enforcement and to use compulsory licensing authority to lower drug prices.
They are pushing Biden to put in place tougher Covid-19 workplace protections through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). And they want him to declare climate change a national emergency and create an office of climate mobilization to coordinate a governmentwide response.
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A petition calling for the actions is supported by Omar, Tlaib and Bowman, along with the progressive groups Data for Progress, Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, the Working Families Party and others.
There's widespread consensus among Democrats that Biden will have to use executive actions to advance his agenda, and he's already vowed to undo Trump administration actions on his first day in office. But questions remain about how big Biden will attempt to go and what the courts will even allow to stand in the face of certain lawsuits.
The progressive lawmakers, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., held a press conference/protest outside the Democratic National Committee last month to push Biden to go big.
"I think most of us feel that we are getting a partner in governing (in Biden)," Omar said. "It is still important not to rest in your laurels and still continue to push and create the momentum for the change."
CORRECTION (Dec. 10, 2020, 10:39 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Sen. Chuck Schumer's leadership position. He is Senate minority leader, not majority leader.