“Good afternoon. We need Medicare for All,” Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., tweeted just hours after President Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who has backed “Medicare-for-all,” was less explicit on policy preferences but called on the Biden administration to “implement bold and aggressive policies advancing economic, racial, and environmental justice, as well as strong civil rights protections to ensure that every person has the ability to thrive.”
Their comments came after Biden, a perceived moderate who has opposed “Medicare-for-all,” struck a deal with progressive icon, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to pursue a host of left-leaning priorities upon entering office.
As Biden was inaugurated, the focus among Democrats appeared to be on celebrating turning the page from the Trump years. But that will likely change as Biden pushes his legislative agenda through the Democrat-dominated Congress. With a Democratic majority in the House and the effective majority in the Senate, progressives could see leverage to push Biden into using his political capital on more progressive policies.
While Biden has embraced the Green New Deal, he proposed a substantially smaller version than Sanders did on the campaign trail in 2020. And the Democratic primary featured bitter disputes over the scope of health care regulation that will likely resurface as the White House attempts to strengthen Obamacare. Biden, in particular, took heavy fire on the issue from Democratic candidates, including his own Vice President Kamala Harris.
The immediate aftermath of the election appeared to offer a preview of this when a Democratic caucus call erupted with complaints about the party’s leftward drift.
“We lost races we shouldn’t have lost,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., said. “Defund the police almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t say socialism ever again. We need to get back to basics.”
“Squad” member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., responded at a rally urging passage of the expansive Green New Deal, which has been panned as a socialist reform that would plunge the country into financial trouble.
“So, I was confused because I thought what is more basic than fighting for clean water?” Omar asked. “What is more basic than fighting for a breathable planet? What is more basic than trying to make sure we get health care for people?”
Many of the contentious legislative battles will likely be decided in the Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris can issue the tie-breaking vote in the even split between Republicans and Democrats. To accomplish their agenda, progressives will need to persuade moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has already expressed opposition to “Medicare-for-all” and repealing the filibuster — a key Senate function that allows Republicans to block Democrats’ agenda without a majority.
Signaling the fight ahead, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the nominal leader of the “Squad” leader, previously tweeted a photo of herself apparently glaring at Manchin after he criticized pushes to “defund the police.”
Nevertheless, Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most prominent proponents of “Medicare-for-all” has indicated she wouldn’t pursue more aggressive challenges to Democratic leadership. In December, for example, she dismissed calls to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to hold a vote on the legislation.
“So you issue threats, hold your vote, and lose. Then what?” she asked.