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Progressives give up trying to convince Biden on personnel, shift to policy

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

  • Progressives aren't just pushing Biden on hot-button liberal policies like the Green New Deal or Medicare for All.
  • They’re talking economic policy, reform of the Federal Reserve, foreign policy, defense spending cuts, ending the war in Yemen and addressing immigration, systemic racism and public education.

Behind the scenes: Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) are just a few of the progressives engaged in policy talks with Biden transition officials. They include incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who one congressional aide said is trusted by progressives “to navigate these things and always have both sides’ backs.”

What they’re saying: Bowman had a 20-minute Zoom conversation about public education reform last Friday with Linda Darling-Hammond, who heads up Biden’s education transition team. “It’s a huge win to progressives that she’s leading,” Bowman, a former school founder and principal, told Axios.

  • But he also said progressives’ engagement raises the stakes for the Biden/Harris administration to actually deliver.
  • “I’ve never felt silenced or shut out by Biden’s team,” Bowman said. “But we’re going to continue to push and organize. ... He wants us to stay on him."

Between the lines: Progressives want to be viewed by Biden’s team as trusted negotiators, not just agitators.

  • They want to continue the working relationship they had when factions of the party collaborated on big-ticket policy issues like climate change through the so-called Unity Task Forces after Biden became the nominee.
  • They’ve already asked Biden not to give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell any more power, or treat him like the president.
  • They’ve demonstrated outside of the DNC to pressure Biden to follow through on his $2 trillion climate plan.

Flashback: Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote an op-ed after Biden won the election, imploring him to do a number of things through executive action — foreshadowing what will likely be progressives’ next focus in their policy pressure campaign against Biden.

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