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Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s surprise win over more centrist Democrat Paul Vallas has provided the Democratic Party’s left wing with a victory after a string of policy defeats under President Joe Biden.
As Biden continues to make overtures to more liberal Democrats, his return to more centrist positions, particularly concerning crime, energy, and immigration, helps him appeal to as many voters as possible before a likely reelection campaign. But his balancing act puts pressure on his relationship with those members to his political left.
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One more liberal Democratic strategist encouraged her party to embrace the term “progressive” after Johnson’s win.
“What we saw, not only with Brandon Johnson but also in Wisconsin with the Supreme Court win, is a sign that progressive policies are mainstream,” she told the Washington Examiner. “They’re popular. When candidates run on them, run on an unabashed pro-choice, anti-corporate platform, then they win. When we call out extremism and lead with our values, we do really well.”
The strategist cited Biden’s “economic populism,” from “taxing billionaires” to “taking on big corporations” and technology firms, as a presidential position similar to that of more liberal Democrats. But the president has disappointed the same people with other stances, most recently with his decision last month to approve ConocoPhillips’s Willow public lands oil drilling project in Alaska and with reports he is considering detaining migrant families who illegally cross the border as was done under former President Donald Trump. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has declined to respond to “rumors” or “conversations that are happening at this time” concerning the latter.
“‘Progressive’ is not a bad word,” the strategist said. “Sometimes Democrats maybe get a little bit more afraid of it than they should.”
Biden’s move toward the center coincided with the departure of former White House chief of staff Ron Klain. Klain was replaced by Jeff Zients, a management consultant and venture capitalist who worked in the Obama administration and was Biden’s COVID-19 coordinator, after the State of the Union in February.
“We’re not ready to rule out that it can still be a productive relationship, but I think that the next couple of weeks and months will be really telling for how that goes,” the strategist said. “We do have the general election coming around, and there’s been a lot of rumblings if Biden is moderating for the sake of 2024. I think the answer is ‘We hope not’ because his approval rating does better when he aligns with progressives and speaks boldly on the issues that matter to people at kitchen tables across the country.”
Johnson, a little-known Illinois county commissioner and former Chicago public school teacher who was supported by the city’s powerful teachers unions, overcame a fundraising disadvantage against Vallas, the onetime Chicago Public Schools CEO and city budget director, 51% to 49%, or 16,000 votes. Their race was largely defined by their respective approaches to crime, with Johnson contending with past comments he made about defunding police departments. Instead, on the trail, he underscored his desire to hire more detectives while improving mental health services.
Johnson’s win, along with Wisconsin Justice-elect Janet Protasiewicz’s abortion access-driven victory in her contest for a seat on the state’s Supreme Court, is another positive data point for liberal Democrats. But the White House on Wednesday had slightly different reactions to the results as Democrats prepare to make next year about abortion again and Republicans criticize Democrats, such as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, for being soft on crimes not allegedly committed by Trump.
“He believes that we should fund the police and give law enforcement the resources they need for effective policing,” Jean-Pierre told reporters during a briefing. “That is something that the president has been very vocal about and has taken action.”
“Mayor-elect Johnson is a former teacher and a union organizer,” she said. “His victory is a testament to the strength and organizing power of our educators. And that’s something that we saw yesterday.”
Biden’s Willow announcement, which is estimated to eventually produce more than 180,000 barrels of oil per day, was endorsed by Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation but is opposed by environmentalists, who have repeatedly reminded the White House of Biden’s promise not to greenlight ventures on public lands. But it came weeks before OPEC+ said last weekend it would again reduce crude production amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Former South Carolina GOP Rep. Bob Inglis, now a climate policy advocate, agreed the “optics” for Biden “aren’t good.” But he advised activists to “focus on a transition with the understanding that we are going to continue to use fossil fuels for some period of time.”
“There are two things that remain to be done, at least two things. One is we need permitting reform to get that clean energy to places where it’s consumed,” he said of expanding Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. “The other thing is figuring out how to get the world in on this through a border adjustment, and that’s coming along too.”
Liberal Democrats celebrate election wins before 2024: ‘Progressive’ is not a bad word
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