Joe Biden and his White House could hold the most progressive presidency in generations

“We just kept having people at the table,” she said. The temperature. “It showed me that we can do cool things like sit-ins and banners, but we can also be warm and fuzzy.”

Byrne’s activism did not yield immediate results, as evidenced by the outcry last month Biden’s first statement on the cancellation of student debt as president. Biden said he was ready to write off $ 10,000 in debt – a paltry sum – but not necessarily $ 50,000, the figure that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts pushed. But the day after Biden’s response to a CNN town hall reignited the conversation about student debt, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the West Wing was referring the matter to the Justice Department. , to examine Biden’s authority on the matter and what he had power. to be done by executive action.

In previous democratic administrations, this referral could be seen as a dodge – a way for the administration to find its way to justify what the president has already decided to do. In this administration, it might actually buy time for the White House to vote on the matter with a more aggressive stance than Biden held as a candidate or even said as president on the first request. In fact, on Thursday, the Ministry of Education announced that he was canceling about $ 1 billion in debt for about 72,000 borrowers who were swindled by for-profit colleges – a life-changing change for every one of those borrowers.

But the episode is less informative in terms of the outcome than the process and examination of how progressive activists can best influence Biden’s White House and administrative policy. Time and time again, the White House Biden has proven to be pleasantly surprising, from its progressive posture on the first day from administration to how Biden and his senior lieutenants without any excuse pushed through one of the most liberal pieces of legislation in generations. This week, the hits continued to arrive, with Biden for the first time indicating he was open to reform filibuster so that it forces the senators to actually occupy the Senate floor, and Psaki announcing the president supports the push for a state of Washington, DC.

Two months after the start of the Biden administration, there is every indication that it is operating on an entirely different playing field than its most recent Democratic predecessors. Not only have Biden and his team learned the lessons of the Obama administration, they also seem to have a whole different approach to how they interact with progressive activists.

As someone who has both reported on and watched different progressive movements work to influence the Obama White House, I have tried to understand what moves Team Biden – what exactly can liberal activists do to push this administration ? What I have concluded is that Biden is much less embarrassed by the external turmoil than was President Barack Obama. The Obama White House was actually quite meager in the face of criticism from the left. The movements that ultimately won some of the biggest victories under the Obama administration did so in highly visible pressure campaigns. Obama bristled with being heckled by LGBTQ activists during a Democratic fundraiser in 2010, just as he did when he was arrested by immigration activists during a speech to members of the La Raza National Council in July 2011. Later in the year, climate activists arms linked to form a human chain, 2 to 3 people deep, around the White House. All of these actions were part of pressure campaigns that ultimately paid off in terms of policy changes, but they also ended in huge efforts on the part of grassroots activists – while defenders of Washington sometimes expressed out of turn could find themselves excluded from access. to the White House.

The Biden White House seems to be taking the exact opposite: inviting activists and advocates to join in the conversation about how to develop policy. The whole body is much less adversarial in nature and also appears to produce more liberal results. President Biden, for example, placed over half a dozen allies and proteges of Warren in his administration, in positions where they could have a very real impact on financial sector policy and regulation. One of these appointees, Julie Morgan, is a Senior Advisor in the Department of Education with expertise in student debt, according to Mother Jones.

Julie Margetta Morgan, whom Warren calls “another data nerd” after herself, spent two years working in the Senate digging into the details of who carries student loan debt. What she found, Warren recalls, was “work that required oversight” of the administration of the loan program by the Department of Education. They identified an obscure provision in the higher education law called “defense against repayment,” and pushed the ministry to wipe out 30,000 student loans defrauded by for-profit colleges. it made in 2015. Morgan is now focusing on loan debt as a senior lawyer at the Department of Education, which is investigating whether that same provision grants the department the power to do the mass cancellation type. of the debt that Warren advocated.

The current pressure to write off student debt and the early success of defrauded students is instructive on several levels. First, the change in the Biden administration seems to be related much more to conversation than to external turmoil (although I hasten to add that grassroots pressure is still key to creating space for Democrats move left). Second, meaningful change may not come in the form of a big, sweeping gesture, as it did with the $ 1.9 trillion relief program. Policies that are profoundly transformative for tens of thousands of people – even hundreds of thousands or millions – for example, could come in the form of smaller, less obvious bites and spill over into regulatory changes across the world. administration.

Biden’s approach to filibuster reform is another example of how his low-key approach could yield real gains even if they don’t turn out the way we imagined. Instead of pushing to eliminate the filibuster completely, Biden said this week that he wanted a return to “what it was supposed to be “- a talking obstruction like it was” when I came to the Senate in the old days. “It’s a brilliant framing, in fact, that deprives Republicans of a number of talking points about the dangerously radical policies of This isn’t radical change in Biden’s formulation. In fact, that’s it. except radical – it’s a return to form. Biden topped it off with the most sensible observation possible. “It’s almost got to the point where democracy has a hard time working, “he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Indeed. Who’s talking about common sense reforms now Republicans?

It’s still early. But by May 2009, some of my close allies and I had already started to conclude that the LGBTQ movement was ready to fight, and not primarily with Republicans. But just a few months after the start of the Biden administration, it feels like the progressive movement has a partner in the White House. Joe Biden runs the presidency like a guy with nothing to prove, which makes him both less reactionary and more persuasive. In some ways, that’s a function of his whiteness and, perhaps more accurately, of not being the first black man to occupy the Oval Office, which surely exerted unimaginable pressures. But part of Biden’s relative ease could also be a function of age. Some people – but certainly not all – simply become more comfortable in themselves as they age.

Whatever the reasons, Biden seems like a guy who both understands the moment of transformation he’s going through and is open to transformation. He lives in the historic moment around him, and it ultimately has the potential to give the most progressive presidency in generations.

Watch Melissa Byrne on Daily Kos’ The brief,Starring me and guest host Cara Zelaya:

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