Liberals go after Biden, trying to blunt centrist surge in Democratic Party
SAN FRANCISCO — The liberal wing of the Democratic Party launched a sudden volley of attacks against presidential candidate Joe Biden and his allies over the weekend, showing a new urgency to wrest control of the party from moderate forces that had seized an advantage in recent months.
Some of the most scathing, if veiled, admonitions came Sunday from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who repeatedly condemned “middle ground” policy ideas and appeared to criticize Biden for not attending a Democratic gathering where Sanders and 13 other White House hopefuls spoke.
“We cannot go back to the old ways,” Sanders warned in a speech at the California Democratic Party convention here, as supporters cheered and waved signs bearing his name. “We have go to go forward with a new and progressive agenda.”
On Saturday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., delivered a fierce rebuke of Biden’s professed faith that Republicans will be more cooperative once President Donald Trump is out of office. The crowd showered her with loud cheers. Before Warren spoke, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., faced shouts from the hometown audience demanding that she and other Democratic leaders move to impeach Trump.
The broadsides amounted to the loudest warning yet from the party’s left flank that it intends to aggressively challenge the centrist ideas and cautious politics that have gained a foothold eight months before presidential balloting begins with the Iowa caucuses. After signs of promise earlier this year, when Sanders topped the polls and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., quickly asserted her influence on Capitol Hill, the liberal movement has stagnated.
Biden, a more traditional Democrat who has rejected Sanders’ brand of socialism and calls for dramatic change, has built a persistent and comfortable lead in the polls. Medicare-for-all, which once seemed poised to become a dominant proposal, has met resistance in the party. And Pelosi has rebuffed calls to open impeachment proceedings against Trump, despite fresh questions about his conduct raised by now-former special counsel Robert Mueller in a recent public statement.
Leftist candidates and activists have concluded that they can no longer wait for Biden to fade on his own, as some once hoped. Nor can they count on Democratic congressional leaders to fight Trump with all the tools at their disposal, without some prodding.
“Now is not the time to play it safe,” said Kacey Carpenter, 56, who came to see Sunday’s speech dressed in a Sanders shirt and hat. “If we play it safe, Trump is going to get reelected — or worse.”
But the power of their newly emboldened movement remains unclear. Even here in deep blue California, it faces hurdles. Late Saturday, the state party overwhelmingly elected a labor leader from the mainstream ranks of the party as its new chairman. He defeated a liberal activist backed by many Sanders supporters.
And interviews with current and former elected officials, strategists and donors in California revealed a relatively high level of confidence in Biden’s ability to defeat Trump. Many Democrats see that as the most important quality in a candidate.
“This is not a normal presidential election,” said former Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who called defeating Trump a “moral imperative.”
Asked who fits that bill, she replied, “I think the only one right now is Joe.” That could change, said Boxer, who has not endorsed a candidate.