Calling them a team of rivals may be too tame.
They are the leaders of the unity task force organized by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, an assortment of centrists and progressives who will meet ahead of the Democratic National Convention to shape official party policy on everything from the environment to the economy.
Their task, Biden explained, is nothing less than creating “a united party.” And Sanders commended the former vice president for working with his now-inert campaign “to assemble a group of leading thinkers and activists who can and will unify our party in a transformational and progressive direction.”
Before that business, the group must first make peace with the presumptive nominee. Even with the blessing of Sanders, it won’t be easy. Many are uneasy with Biden. Some questioned his mental fitness barely a month back.
The pandemic has quickly made party infighting a distant memory, but not long ago the party was wrestling with an identity crisis, one primary at a time. And after Biden bagged Super Tuesday, Stacey Walker bemoaned the number of progressives who were jumping ship for the centrist candidate. “I think part of the reason so many folks become cynical of politics is when they hear someone effectively saying for weeks/months that they have serious concerns about Biden,” the prominent Iowa Democrat complained on Twitter in March, “and then turn around and endorse him.”
Elections boil down to personal choice. Walker still questioned the convictions of those who settled on the establishment choice to take on Trump.
“The people endorsing Bernie Sanders actually believe in him,” he wrote that same day. “Several high-profile endorsers for Biden are on record — in some cases just weeks ago — making the case against his presidency. Politics as usual is why nothing fundamentally changes in America.”
According to Walker, Biden has an “uninspiring” policy agenda, is “not exciting,” and amounts to “a walking gaffe machine” as well as a “a walking contradiction.” What’s more, he agreed in January, the former vice president “does not deserve black people.”
Walker is now one of eight task force members focused on shaping Biden’s criminal justice platform.
Darrick Hamilton endorsed Sanders after he received the most votes in both Iowa and New Hampshire and was quick to heap praise on the democratic socialist. According to the Ohio State economics professor, Sanders “is a visionary” with the requisite “integrity.” Biden? Not so much.
When the two front-runners met for their first and last one-on-one debate, Hamilton didn’t hold back. After an answer Biden gave on health care, he wrote in now deleted tweets that the candidate “is not the person I want to lead during a pandemic!” A comment Biden made about Ebola led Hamilton to conclude that he was “not presidential.” Altogether, in his estimation, the centrist was “inauthentic” and had been “reduced to talking-point sound bites.”
Hamilton is now a member of the task force’s subcommittee on the economy.
While Biden quickly became the establishment favorite in 2020, many were willing to overlook his progressive credentials as the vice president to the most progressive executive in history. Worse for him, some argued that Barack Obama and Biden were paving the way for Trump on blocking immigration.
Marisa Franco summed up that sentiment in a 2016 article for Slate headlined “The Deportation Machine Obama Built for President Trump.”
The previous administration had expanded Immigration and Customs Enforcement efforts and ended up deporting more illegal immigrants than the last Republican president. As a result, Franco, director and co-founder of the Latino activist group, Mijente, called on Biden in June to admit that he had “built up a deportation machine that was gassed up and ready to go once Trump took over.”
Franco is now a member of the task force subcommittee crafting immigration policy for Biden.
Some of the criticism of the de facto nominee goes back even further, including the critique offered by Marielena Hincapié. The executive director of the National Immigration Law Center filed suit against the Obama administration in 2014. “By locking up women and babies,” she said of the administration’s immigration policies, “the Obama administration has made it their mission to deport these people as quickly as possible.”
Hincapié will now serve as co-chair of the immigration subcommittee.
It is no secret that Biden was never the progressive pick, but as Obama sought to remind voters in endorsing his old running mate, Biden “already has what is the most progressive platform of any major-party nominee in history.”
Members of the unity task force who once dismissed him will now seek to push Biden farther to the left. The candidate welcomes them. Asked about these critics turned advisers, the campaign did not respond to a request for comment.