Former Vice President Joe Biden and progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders are teaming up to create joint “unity” task forces that will have a direct hand in shaping Democratic policy and the party’s agenda in 2020 and beyond.
The group of 48 lawmakers, labor leaders, economists, academics, and activists signals what the Democratic Party platform might look like going forward. Each campaign selected representatives to serve on six policy-specific committees: climate change, criminal justice reform, education, the economy, health care, and immigration.
Sanders’s allies seem encouraged about the names on the task force, which include vocal proponents for progressive policies like Medicare-for-All and a Green New Deal, like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Pramila Jayapal (WA). Sanders’s former campaign manager Faiz Shakir, who has been leading negotiations with the Biden campaign, told Vox that Biden’s team has been very “amenable and open” to working with progressives throughout the process.
“[Biden] has some room to run in terms of building a more fleshed-out policy agenda to campaign upon,” Shakir told Vox. “Because he hasn’t fleshed it out as deeply as some other candidates over the course of the primary, that’s an opportunity.”
Shakir sees an opportunity for progressives to not only make their mark on Biden’s policy agenda over the coming months, but also develop lasting relationships with the Biden campaign that could lead to having input over who joins Biden’s administration if he wins in November.
“The way in which we know it succeeded is if the policy is married with personnel who can execute that policy,” Shakir said.
Though the ability to pass any bold policy depends largely on the political make-up of Congress after the 2020 election, this is a big first step, and a sign that the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party seem intent on working together.
“From health care to reforming our justice system to rebuilding a more inclusive and fair economy, the work of the task forces will be essential to identifying ways to build on our progress and not simply turn the clock back to a time before Donald Trump, but transform our country,” Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in a statement.
The task forces will meet ahead of the Democratic National Convention in August and will present policy recommendations to both Biden and the DNC’s Platform Committee.
As the nation struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, longstanding inequalities around jobs and health care have created only more urgency for meaningful change. Sanders talked about the need for Democrats to create a policy agenda with working-class people in mind.
“I commend Joe Biden for working together with my campaign to assemble a group of leading thinkers and activists who can and will unify our party in a transformational and progressive direction,” Sanders said in a statement.
Biden and Sanders are building a coalition
This task force was a large part of the reason Sanders formally endorsed Biden soon after he exited the 2020 Democratic primary. Sanders wanted to a guarantee his progressive vision would have a tangible impact on policy in a Biden administration.
The people Sanders selected to serve on the task forces will not only have input when it comes to policy but may also have a say on who might serve in Biden’s White House if he is elected president.
Sanders’s team could exert its influence in other ways as well. Sanders is still on the ballot in many states, which could allow him to pick up delegates that can be used as bargaining chips when it comes to updating the party platform at the DNC, as he did in 2016. But actually having a seat at the table well before the DNC happens is a huge win for progressives.
The task forces also speak to Biden’s style as a politician. As Vox’s Ezra Klein points out, Biden is known for his skill at making deals and building coalitions. It helped him during the primary season, when he built coalitions with moderate competitors like Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Now it could help him win over a progressive movement he needs on his side in order to beat Trump in November.
Klein wrote this about Biden in April:
He’s eager to cut deals, form coalitions, and make compromises to win support. For the most part, those deals dogged Biden during the primary, and his senatorial instincts were seen as a weakness. His long record and conciliatory temperament gave opponents reams of ammunition with which to attack him.
No one would say Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee because of his glittering speeches or razor-sharp debate performances. At crucial moments in the primary, he outmaneuvered his competitors through transactional, coalitional politics. He won them over rather than ran them over.
Sanders spoke to that when he endorsed Biden last month.
“I know you are the kind of guy who is going to be inclusive,” Sanders said during a video discussion with Biden. “You want to bring people in, even people who disagree with you. You want to hear what they have to say. We can argue it out. It’s called democracy. You believe in democracy. So do I ... And in that regard, Joe, I very much look forward to working with you.”
Shakir told Vox that spirit has continued as the two campaigns set out to build the task forces.
“They’ve been extremely amenable and accepting and not striking anybody for ideological reasons at all,” Shakir said. “My own sense of it is they’re really eager and hopeful this does work out quite well and people build this camaraderie.”
Here’s who’s on each task force
- Former Secretary of State John Kerry, task force co-chair
- Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
- Kerry Duggan, former deputy director for policy to Vice President Biden
- Former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy
- Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and co-founder of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), task force co-chair and co-author of the Green New Deal resolution
- Varshini Prakash, co-founder of youth activist group Sunrise Movement
- Catherine Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice
Criminal Justice Reform
- Chiraag Bains, task force co-chair and director of legal strategies at progressive think tank Demos
- Stacey Walker, supervisor in Linn County, Iowa, and Iowa co-chair of Sanders’s campaign
- Civil rights attorney and South Carolina state Rep. Justin Bamberg
- Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), task force co-chair and chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor
- Tennessee state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus in Tennessee
- Vanita Gupta, former acting assistant attorney general
- Former Attorney General Eric Holder
- Biden campaign adviser Symone Sanders
- Sara Nelson, task force co-chair and president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA
- Stephanie Kelton, professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University and an expert on modern monetary theory
- Darrick Hamilton, economic professor at Ohio State University whose work focuses on income inequality and socioeconomic stratification
- Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), task force co-chair and current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
- Jared Bernstein, former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Biden
- Ben Harris, former chief economist and chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden
- Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
- Sonal Shah, policy director for Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign
- Heather Gautney, task force co-chair and Sanders policy adviser
- Alejandro Adler, Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University
- Hirokazu Yoshikawa, New York University professor
- Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), task force co-chair and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
- Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association
- Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
- Maggie Thompson, former executive director of Generation Progress
- Christie Vilsack, literacy advocate
- Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), task force co-chair, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and author of the House’s Medicare-for-All bill
- Dr. Donald Berwick, former director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
- Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former Michigan gubernatorial candidate in 2018 and single-payer advocate
- Former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, task force co-chair
- Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union
- New York University professor Sherry Glied, who served in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration
- Chris Jennings, former health care policy adviser during the Obama administration
- Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee
- Marielena Hincapié, task force co-chair and executive director of the National Immigration Law Center
- Marisa Franco, director of progressive Latinx group Mijente
- Javier Valdés, co-executive director of progressive immigration group Make the Road
- Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), task force co-chair and an original co-author of the Dream Act
- Cristóbal Alex, Biden campaign adviser
- Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX)
- Juan Gonzalez, adviser to Vice President Biden
- Nevada Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall
Update, May 13, 4:30 pm Eastern: This story has been updated with an interview with Sanders’s former campaign manager Faiz Shakir.