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Sanders’s Staff Talked to White House Nearly Every Day When Pushing for $15 Wage

Sen. Bernie Sanders and the White House are keeping in contact on key political moves, Politico finds.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and then-former Vice President Joe Biden react during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Loyola Marymount University on December 19, 2019, in Los Angeles, California.

If it seems like President Joe Biden has been surprisingly progressive in the first six weeks of his presidency, it might be because his administration is beginning to recognize the power of progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

New reporting by Laura Barrón-López for Politico finds that the White House is more open than ever to hearing ideas from Sanders and his staff — a quiet shift emblematic of the growing influence of progressives in Washington.

When Sanders was fighting for the $15 federal minimum wage to be included in the latest stimulus package, his staff talked to the White House nearly every day. And, when he was trying to keep it alive after the Senate parliamentarian shot it down from the stimulus, the White House gave him space to do so, reports Barrón-López.

The relationship goes the other way, too, Politico finds. When Biden backed Amazon workers’ union drive on Monday, the White House made sure Sanders’s team knew about it. The result for Biden was praise from the left.

This isn’t to say that Biden is suddenly a progressive champion — far from it. Though his early support of the $15 minimum wage raise was crucial, his choice to tell the press that it wouldn’t make it in the stimulus package last month empowered the parliamentarian to nix it from the package, Democratic aides told Politico.

More recently, progressives have been critical of the White House in their choice to not overrule the parliamentarian and keep the minimum wage hike in the package anyway. Though the action would be carried out by Vice President Kamala Harris, many argue that Biden’s sway over the decision is powerful. Sanders, for his part, has been critical of the parliamentarian’s decision and has said that he believes that the Senate should ignore it, but hasn’t directly criticized Biden or the White House for their roles in the situation.

Still, the relationship between Sanders and Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain is “productive,” Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s chief political adviser, told Politico. “We have felt an open door where, if we have something that might be good policy and politics for them, we’re going to raise it and they’re going to entertain it in a serious way,” Shakir said.

The partnership may signal a new kind of unity — one not necessarily focused entirely on unity with Republicans, but rather unity with the growing left wing of the Democratic Party. Barrón-López writes that the White House staff and Sanders’s staff are carefully wording statements in order to project a level of peace and harmony among the Democrats and progressives.

Progressives have seemingly already had an influence over the 1994 crime bill-backing, Social Security-slashing president. While Biden’s cabinet, for instance, has many questionable picks from a progressive perspective, he’s also chosen people like progressive climate champion and Congresswoman Deb Haaland for top spots in his cabinet, earning praise from the left.

In at least one area, Sanders and Biden have full agreement, Politico finds. Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told Politico that,“The labor platform was aligned almost entirely” in the Biden-Sanders unity task force.

The White House has “been very good at tending the garden,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told Politico last month. Some of Biden’s early actions in his first weeks as president have gotten reserved praise from some progressives — while many on the left are calling for more. Still, though Biden will likely never be an ideal or even preferred candidate for progressives, it appears that his Democratic tent may have inched, ever so slightly, toward the left.

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