How Biden United a Fractious Party Under One Tent


Within the Democratic caucus, Mr. Biden’s team has avoided other pitfalls he witnessed during the Obama administration, when White House spokesmen dismissed activists as “the professional left” and banished intraparty critics from the administration’s circles of influence. Instead, Mr. Biden’s White House has welcomed many such critics to virtual meetings, and the chief of staff, Ron Klain, has encouraged progressive criticism on his Twitter feed.

Melissa Byrne, a progressive activist, discovered as much when she wanted to prod Mr. Biden to focus on forgiving student loan debt. To complement her steady stream of tweets, Ms. Byrne bought full-page ads in The News Journal, a newspaper that was delivered to Mr. Biden’s Delaware house daily during the presidential transition.

Ms. Byrne expected some bristling from Mr. Biden’s team over her public protests. Instead, her efforts were encouraged. Mr. Klain told her to keep up the pressure, inviting her to more Zoom meetings with the transition team.

“We just kept being able to have people at the table,” she said. “That showed me that we could do cool things like sit-ins and banner drops, but we could also be warm and fuzzy.”

The singular focus on the pandemic has enabled Mr. Biden to align the central promise of his campaign — a more effective government response — with the priorities of party officials in battleground states, who say that voters expect Mr. Biden to deliver a competent vaccine distribution along with direct economic relief. Already, there is widespread agreement within the party that Democrats will be judged in the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential contest by their handling of the twin crises.

“Needles and checks — that’s got to be the focus,” said Thomas Nelson, the executive of Wisconsin’s Outagamie County. Mr. Nelson was a Sanders delegate in 2020 and is running in the 2022 election for the seat held by Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican. “People in my county, we need those checks.”

Mr. Biden has also paid attention to other policy matters. He has signed about 45 executive orders, memorandums or proclamations enacting or at least initiating major shifts on issues including racial justice, immigration, climate change and transgender rights.

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