Democrats of all stripes worked together to deliver former Vice President Joe Biden his resounding victory — because both progressives and the president-elect understood America needed a united Democratic Party to defeat President Donald Trump. But Biden risks undermining the very hard-earned goodwill he has built among Democratic voters and progressives over the past year if he pursues toxic deals with a potential Republican-controlled Senate under Mitch McConnell's leadership.
Democrats didn't turn out for Biden and defeat Trump by millions of votes to then turn around and allow McConnell, R-Ky., to rob them of their ability to govern or pick our Cabinet. Republican leaders have spent the past few days delegitimizing a Biden presidency by falsely accusing the president-elect of stealing the election and threatening to take the matter to the Supreme Court. As McConnell has amplified Trump's efforts to drive our democracy off a cliff, he and his party have abandoned any claim to being legitimate, good-faith negotiating partners.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has already warned that McConnell's efforts to influence Biden's Cabinet picks and enshrine minority rule will likely result in a constitutional crisis. But Democrats must make it clear that Biden didn't squeak out a win — he won clearly and convincingly, both in the popular vote and the Electoral College. He must use his mandate to fight for the American majority who elected him. If McConnell controls the Senate, Biden should force a choice between a Cabinet of his choosing or a slew of acting or recess-appointed officials.
McConnell has only one goal: to grow the Republican Party's power. He will do whatever he can to make Biden and congressional Democrats cut painful deals that would be toxic to voters the party desperately needs to turn out in 2022. Pursuing piecemeal deals with McConnell and allowing him to be a co-governing partner virtually guarantees a depressed Democratic base in the 2022 midterms.
That's why progressives won't wait for Biden to act — and are already scrutinizing his personnel decisions. For example, we want Biden to create an Office of Climate Mobilization headed by a progressive climate champion that reports directly to the president and musters every tool and lever in the federal government to address this crisis. We want to see leaders like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., appointed treasury secretary and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., appointed interior secretary. If Biden wants to keep the party united, he must respect and include members of the growing wing of the party that makes up nearly 40 percent of its seats in Congress.
Shortly after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., withdrew his candidacy in April, Biden moved quickly to align his policy platform closer to what one of Biden's closest advisers, Ron Klain, said was an increasingly progressive consensus in the party. This was a bit of a departure from past Democratic candidates. As nominees, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama and even Hillary Clinton didn't make major efforts to court progressives. But three months before the Democratic National Convention, Biden decided that to win, he would need a coalition that included young, diverse and progressive voters.
Biden and Sanders appointed several progressives to joint task forces, including some of Biden's biggest critics in the Democratic primaries. Nowhere has this effort borne clearer results than in Biden's work with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., whom I used to work for, and the Sunrise Movement to align his platform more closely with the framework of the Green New Deal.
Convening in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the joint task force secured key commitments from Biden on climate. Specifically, Biden committed to push for 100 percent carbon-pollution-free electricity by no later than 2035 (Biden's previous climate plan set the date at 2050), to create an Office of Climate Mobilization and to begin developing stronger vehicle efficiency standards on his first day in the Oval Office. Biden essentially embraced many of the policies of the Green New Deal without embracing its branding. And he campaigned aggressively on climate in the final weeks of the campaign. "It's the No. 1 issue facing humanity. And it's the No. 1 issue for me," Biden said.
By the end of it all, voters trusted Biden over Trump on climate by 20 points, according to the liberal think tank Data for Progress. Independents trusted him over Trump on climate issues by 24 points. Even undecided but Trump-leaning voters said they trusted Biden more on the issue of climate change.
But climate action is just one example. To maintain his coalition, Biden needs to appoint leaders free of corporate influence and committed to ushering in an era of progressive governance unseen since the New Deal and the Great Society.
The House that Biden will inherit is also far more progressive than the one Obama inherited in 2009. In the words of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., "A president is only as successful as his collaboration is with Congress." He'll have to negotiate with a progressive bloc that is flexing its muscle and will hold him accountable.
In the face of a global health crisis, systemic racism and record economic fallout, a Biden presidency must seize its mandate to govern for the American majority that elected it. We have a chance to define not just the next four years, but also the next 50 years.
Or Biden can ignore us, try to co-govern with McConnell and destroy his coalition, a decision that would have severe consequences in Congress and during the 2022 midterms.
The Biden presidency will be defined by how it responds to generation-defining crises: climate, economic recovery, systemic racism and a GOP hellbent on suppressing the democratic will of a growing, multiracial majority.
Some moderate Republicans are claiming that the election results show that America is a center-right country. That's incorrect. We are a progressive country on a wide range of issues, with antebellum institutions preventing the American majority from governing. Among the most central questions facing our democracy are: Just how far will Republicans go to enshrine minority rule, and how hard will Democrats fight to govern on behalf of the majority that elected them?
Progressives have made our commitments clear. Now it's time for Joe Biden to do the same.