Progressives faced a stinging defeat this week when Congress voted to approve a bipartisan debt limit deal many in their caucus had opposed.
It was the latest setback for the left flank in several months, where they have lost out not only on policy concessions but also in a recent high-profile election in Philadelphia.
The bruises have amplified concerns among some progressives that their influence is diminishing among Biden’s allies as the country gears for another fraught election in 2024.
Here are five recent disappointments on the left.
Progressives suffered their most recent defeat this week with the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which averted a nationwide default. Though the left got some of what they wanted, the deal failed to meet many of their demands.
Many left-wingers wanted Biden to use the 14th Amendment to preserve benefits for working families but failed to come up with another viable alternative when that request fell flat.
Some of those same voices expressed feeling isolated from the process and were quick to label it as a Republican-led deal, accusing the GOP of using “hostage-taking” tactics in order to get it passed.
Progressive lawmakers ultimately warned that the party needed to figure out how to make significant changes before the same fight potentially happens again in two years. For now, it remains to be seen whether Democratic leaders are interested in delving into any substantive fixes.
Few policies have fired up the progressive base like the prospect of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans being forgiven for millions of struggling students. It was one of the top areas young voters said inspired them to turn out in the November midterms, helping to secure the party’s control of the upper chamber and also minimize what many predicted would be a landslide victory for Republicans.
That excitement was blunted, however, when several Republican-led states challenged Biden’s executive order offering between $10,000 and $20,000 in debt forgiveness to eligible borrowers, throwing the order’s feasibility into question.
Despite a federal judge rejecting that suit, the issue has been tied up in several legal battles and moved to the Supreme Court, which is likely to issue a decision later this month. The episode has left many uncertain that the conservative majority will rule in favor of cancelation.
The developments were a major blow to progressives who fought during multiple campaign cycles and through Biden’s first term in office to provide debt relief for borrowers.
Lawmakers on the left say this week only made matters worse. The debt ceiling deal further changed the status of the plan by forcing borrowers to resume payments over the summer.
Progressives have recently grown frustrated with the Biden administration over the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Willow Project, both of which they took a hawkish stance against over fears of their long-term impact on the environment.
Things were off to a good start between climate activists and members of Biden’s inner circle, with both camps expressing hope early into his administration that they have a joint vision.
That optimism carried through the midterms after Biden got a series of climate measures in the Inflation Reduction Act that pleased activists and reassured them about his strategy regarding the planet.
But in the lead up to the presidential election season, Biden went in a direction that advocates and climate-conscious members of Congress were troubled by. First, there was the announcement of the Willow Project, a large scale, multi-billion-dollar Alaskan oil drilling proposal, which enraged progressives who protested the move and fought the White House head-on over it.
And now, the bipartisan deal brokered with Republicans to avoid default has also pushed forward the Mountain Valley Pipeline, reportedly with the help of centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), much to the consternation of Progressive Caucus leaders and climate activists who opposed the natural gas venture.
Progressives have been upset over Biden’s handling of the border, urging him to draw a sharper distinction between his position and that of the GOP.
The debate over the Title 42 policy in particular has elicited strong reactions from both sides of the aisle and is expected to continue in the coming months. The border rule was created under former President Trump as part of his broader agenda seeking to make it harder for migrants in search of asylum to cross the border into the United States.
This week, a coalition of over a dozen attorneys general in largely GOP-controlled states announced it was suing the Biden administration over a rule it says makes it easier for migrants to enter the border though newly designated “lawful pathways.”
While progressives have not said the new legal challenge is Biden’s fault, many on the left are still anxious over the direction the administration will take on the border as the 2024 cycle heats up.
Philadelphia mayor’s race
Progressives scored a number of high-profile wins over the past year in cities including Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, challenging the campaign orthodoxy that they alienate voters and cause the party to lose.
But the left suffered a frustrating defeat recently in Philadelphia’s mayoral election, in which centrist mayoral candidate and former state representative Cherelle Parker prevailed over several more liberal contenders, including the media-savvy educator Helen Gym.
Crime and public safety has been a main point of contention within the party, with liberals struggling to change minds that their approach is better than a tougher stance like the one favored by Parker. Democrats are striving for a balance between addressing voters’ concerns about rates of rising crime and violence in urban pockets and providing a contrast to Republicans’ hard-line criminal justice message.
Though the record has ultimately been mixed, Parker’s win in Philadelphia could bolster centrist Democrats’ argument that a tough-on-crime approach is the more viable strategy in competitive urban and suburban races.