The Biden campaign makes another attempt to mobilize progressive support, bringing out popular progressive politicians to vouch for Biden’s interest in change. Ava DeSantis writes on the takeaways from tonight’s event.
Tonight, the Biden campaign held the Progressives for Biden-Harris Unity Town Hall. The town hall occurred virtually, each speaker tuning into the Zoom call from their respective homes. Speakers included Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Mark Pocan, Rep. Chuy García, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley. Sen. Bernie Sanders challenged Biden in the Democratic Primary for the party’s nomination, earning the endorsements of Jayapal, Pocan, and García. Pressley endorsed another Biden challenger from the left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who did not appear at tonight’s town hall.
The event opened with a speech from Biden campaign adviser Heather Booth, who argued President Trump threatens “everything we worked decades to achieve” and undermines any “further progress we can make.” The Progressive Congresspeople defined Biden’s progressiveness in contrast to President Trump. Biden, they argued, presents the opportunity for change, while Trump represents only backwardness. Progressive organizers were invited to ask each candidate a question on their cause of interest. Notably, neither Biden nor Harris appeared as faces of progressivism in the Democratic Party.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “racist, xenophobic, [and] constitution-destroying”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), spoke first. Jayapal labeled the President as the “most racist, xenophobic, constitution-destroying President” in history. The Biden-Harris ticket represents, by contrast, “the chance of achieving some truly transformative structural change for this country.” Under a Biden Administration, progressives will “have the chance to restore power to where it belongs: in the hands of people, and achieve bold and lasting progress for working families,” she said.
Jayapal was asked by a healthcare activist and cancer survivor about Biden’s plan to provide Americans with healthcare and protect the Affordable Care Act. In her response, Jayapal acknowledged Biden’s stance on the issue was less progressive than hers, Biden would veto a Medicare for All bill, but emphasized Biden’s progressivism in comparison to President Trump. “Now everyone watching this probably knows that I’m the lead sponsor of Medicare for All in the House, Bernie Sanders in the Senate, and [Biden and I] have a different idea of how to provide healthcare,” said Jayapal, “but what we know is Donald Trump’s idea is: don’t provide healthcare to anyone except the wealthiest.”
Rep. Mark Pocan: “This is the most important election of our lifetime”
Rep. Mark Pocan, a co-chair of the CPC, spoke next. Pocan referenced the struggles of his constituents with COVID-19. Wisconsin, Pocan’s home state, is a “swing state” some analysts predict will experience a “blue shift” this election. Wisconsin is currently experiencing the third-highest rates of new COVID-19 cases in any state in the U.S., according to Washington Post reports.
Pocan referenced this issue in his pitch for Biden: “My home state is at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak right now, our hospitals are overwhelmed right now, our healthcare workers straining under the pressure. Families are being forced to choose between health and their paycheck, and Trump responds by holding another super-spreader rally here this weekend in Wisconsin.” Biden is the opposite of Trump’s “failed policies” on COVID-19, with his “fact-based, science-based, working people-centered policies,” Pocan argued.
“This is the most important election of our lifetime, I know you hear people say that-I promise I will never say that again because hopefully we will never elect someone like this again,” said Pocan.
Rep. Chuy García: “give them hell, with love”
Rep. Chuy Garcia, “the first Latino congressman repping the Midwest,” implored fellow progressives to “organize and mobilize” for Biden-Harris. This election is a choice “about what kind of country we want for ourselves, but most importantly for our children and grandchildren.” Alternating between Spanish and English for town hall viewers, García called for progressives to “give them hell with love.”
“We’ve got to leave it all on the field, less than 11 days, 264 hours, the soul of our country and the livelihood of our diverse communities is hanging on a thread…We must use our power to organize, volunteer, donate, and vote for Biden, and Harris,” he said.
Asked by a progressive Cuban community organizer, “what will Joe Biden do to help the DACA recipients get a path to citizenship, and how will that be expanded to their parents and grandparents?” García cited Biden’s commitment to legalize DACA within the first 100 days of his administration, at last night’s debate.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: Trump has “contempt” for working families
“We have an administration that has contempt for American people in working families. We deserve an administration that has compassion. And that’s why I need you to dig deep, to give your time, your talent, and your sweat [to] this effort,” Pressley began.
She believes “the stakes of this election are quite literally life and death,” but Biden-Harris supporters should nevertheless “make the affirmative case.” Imagine, Pressley offered, “waking up in America: we have partners in the White House, compassionate grounded people who believe in the dignity and humanity of every person, a president, and a vice president who believe that Black Lives Matter and that families belong together.” Pressley promised this will be the reality of a Biden-Harris Administration.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “I really don’t care” if you are “even a conservative”
Sen. Sanders concluded the progressive Democrats’ case for unity: saying “the need to defeat Trump is not just because he’s a racist, and a sexist, and a homophobe, and a xenophobe, and a religious bigot. It’s not just because we have in the time of a pandemic, just [having] taken over 200,000 lives. We have a president who does not believe in science, which also impacts the work we’ve got to do in terms of climate change. It’s not just all of that. We have a president who is working day and night to undermine American democracy. And I really don’t care right now. Whether you are a progressive, as we are, or moderate, or even a conservative.”
Sanders repeated his colleagues’ theme: emphasizing where he and nominee Biden agree. “We disagree in some areas,” he acknowledged, “but let’s talk about where we do agree, and what it means to America.”
“Joe Biden wants to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour,” Sanders began, “Joe Biden believes in paid family and medical leave… Biden believes in making universal child care… He believes in making public colleges and universities tuition-free for working-class families and taking an important step forward to reduce student debt.” For Sanders, Biden represents the possibility of moving towards the progressive goals of Sanders and his colleagues in the CPC. The Biden-Harris ticket “is about beginning the process through a massive grassroots movement of transforming our economy and our energy system so that [it] represents the needs of all working-class people, all low-income people, all of us, rather than just the people on top.”
When Dakota Hall, a voting rights activist, asked Sanders “how can a new administration provide a way forward to real democracy, that includes Black and Brown communities?” Sanders responded a Biden administration should overturn citizens united, move toward public funding of elections, and begin a conversation on economic democracy. Again alluding towards Biden’s status as a moderate in the Democratic Party, Sanders promised only a “discussion” about economic democracy under a Biden Administration.
Sanders ended the event with a closing statement demanding his supporters volunteer for Biden in the last 11 days of the election. “I understand for many out there getting on the phone, or knocking on a door, it’s not so easy, I know we’re politicians, we do it, you don’t. But you know what? In this campaign, in this moment in history, so what if you’re uncomfortable?” he asked. “What this election is about is not just about you. It’s about people who are sleeping out on the street, people who have no healthcare. You know what? It’s about your kids, and your grandchildren, and future generations. And you know what else it’s about? It’s about the whole damn planet, whether we survive as a planet. So if you’re uncomfortable? I’m sorry, but go out and do it. Do everything you can. In the next 11 days, let’s defeat the most dangerous president in history.”