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Progressive Activists Focus On Denying Former VP Biden Presidential Nomination


Progressive activists say this is finally their time. Many in the Democratic Party have embraced their agenda. Several presidential candidates are promoting parts of it, like college debt forgiveness and "Medicare for All." Progressives, though, are focused on another candidate - Vice President Joe Biden. They do not think his more centrist stance is the way for Democrats to defeat President Trump. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Justin Krebs says he is not interested in hearing about electability.

JUSTIN KREBS: Because exactly four years ago right now, there was a messy, crowded primary with too many candidates, people who were totally unelectable - and Donald Trump was one of them and ended up winning.

KHALID: Krebs works with the advocacy group MoveOn. I met him at the annual Netroots Nation convention in Philadelphia this past weekend. It was a huge gathering of some 4,000 progressive activists. The folks at Netroots pointed out that many Democrats thought Barack Obama was unelectable until he started winning. They say this word electability is used to scare voters into choosing a safe candidate. And nowadays, it's being used to promote former Vice President Joe Biden. Allegra Dengler, an activist from New York, actually shuddered when I asked her about Biden.

ALLEGRA DENGLER: Why is he so popular? I have no idea. He's like a corporate Democrat from Delaware, which is, like, the corporate headquarters of everything.

KHALID: A lot of activists say Biden is the worst option. They warn that if he's the nominee, the Democrats could see a repeat of the 2016 election. Maria Urbina with the group Indivisible did not single Biden out by name. But she said whoever the nominee is, he or she has to energize young black and Latino voters.

MARIA URBINA: We need to be able to build a base of voters - a coalition of voters that are excited, that are going to turnout in historic levels. And we can't rely on it just being based on Trump being on the ballot. That won't be enough.

KHALID: Progressives insist 2020 is going to be all about the base, which means there is no point in trying to win over moderate voters. Democrats need an inspiring candidate.

YVETTE SIMPSON: (Laughter) Do you feel inspired by moderation?

KHALID: That's Yvette Simpson with Democracy for America. I met her after she wrapped up a panel about how Biden is the least electable Democrat in 2020. She says people, right now, are not motivated by incremental change. They want progressive ideas.

SIMPSON: I do believe that there are people who can afford for the world not to change. And I think if you can afford for the world to change, you take the slow approach. And so if you're a privileged few that can wait for Medicare for All, then maybe you can be a moderate, but we don't have time for that.

KHALID: Earlier today, Biden unveiled his health care plan. In a video, he explained he would build on the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicaid and a public insurance option.


JOE BIDEN: I understand the appeal of Medicare for All. But folks supporting it should be clear that it means getting rid of Obamacare, and I'm not for that.

KHALID: But the goal, progressives say, is not just maintaining the ACA. It's about establishing universal health care. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a Medicare for All plan that's been leading the Democratic debate this year. It's now endorsed by a number of other Democratic presidential candidates. Lanae Erickson, with the centrist think tank Third Way, thinks that's a mistake. She says the biggest concern for voters is the cost of health care. Overhauling the system isn't the answer.

LANAE ERICKSON: It gives a huge window for Donald Trump and Republicans to label Democrats as socialists and have that label stick.

KHALID: Erickson also doesn't think the party needs a candidate who promotes policies like Medicare for All in order to win.

ERICKSON: There's no question you need to both energize your base and persuade people if you're going to win an election. But Donald Trump is the best energy the left base will ever need.

KHALID: That's the approach Democratic leaders took in 2018, and it worked in competitive House districts. But the thing is, a Democratic primary is different. And Bernie Sanders is not going to let his opponents forget that. On Wednesday, he's planning a major address in D.C. to, quote, "confront the opponents of Medicare for All."

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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