“It’s a tragedy,” a former high-level staffer told Status Coup about Sanders’ lack of organizing and leveraging of his massive supporter base to demand major COVID-19 relief.
As presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden continues to run a presidential campaign from his basement amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Status Coup has learned Senator Bernie Sanders has made recommendations to Biden on progressive figures he should consider for his cabinet and other key administration positions should he go on to defeat President Trump in November.
Some of the recommendations Sanders has made are for progressive individuals that were appointed to policy “task forces” the Biden campaign and Sanders campaign formed to craft policy proposals in the areas of healthcare, the economy, climate change, criminal justice reform, and education.
Progressives appointed to these task forces include economist and modern monetary theory advocate Stephanie Kelton, president of the Association of Flight Attendants Sara Nelson, Sanders campaign senior policy advisor Heather Gautney, former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Medicare For All advocate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, pro-Sanders executive director of the National Immigration Law Center Marielena Hincapié, and Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash. Progressive lawmakers on the task forces include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Response to the task forces has been harsh among progressive media and online activists, with many considering it a political dog and pony show meant for Biden to placate Sanders and progressives while his campaign floats picking moderates like Amy Klobuchar as his VP.
But one source familiar with Sanders’ thinking told Status Coup the task forces are, well, not only about the task forces.
“The task forces were constructed in a certain manner where the people on there are also seen as progressive champions who will distinguish themselves as people Biden should consider [for his potential administration],” the source said.
The task forces give progressives an “entry point,” goes the thinking, to show Biden and his allies how progressive leaders think and operate so that, if Biden becomes president, he may view certain progressive individuals as worth choosing for key positions.
“It remains to be seen,” the source said about whether Biden has been receptive to any of the personnel suggestions Sanders has made.
Based on reports that Biden is currently being advised on campaign and economic matters by two staunch members of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, former Clinton treasury secretary Lawrence Summers and former Obama chief of staff and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it seems unlikely Biden would line his potential administration with progressive names likely unable to agree with those figures on a breakfast spot much less economic or healthcare policy.
“If they come out of these task forces and it really looks like he’s not getting anything, I do think he will come out and be stronger and say ‘this is not good enough, this is not acceptable’ and maybe we will see a little more fight in him,” a former Sanders campaign staffer told Status Coup. “I don’t think he’s MIA, I think it’s a wait and see kind of thing.”
Meanwhile, former staffers of Sanders’ 2020 campaign expressed frustration that Sanders isn’t doing more, and taking more aggressive actions beyond the task forces, amid a COVID-19 pandemic about to reach 100,000 dead Americans alongside economic devastation among working people.
“It’s a real tragedy,” a high-level campaign staffer told Status Coup about Sanders’ choice to not activate his massive email list and existing organizing structure to organize a pressure campaign for more immediate relief along the lines of government-funded paycheck guarantees (like most European governments are doing) and other measures like organizing rent strikes. Although Sanders has introduced a bill for paycheck guarantees, he has not done a digital or organizing campaign to pressure lawmakers on both sides of the aisle similar to what he successfully did during pressure campaigns to get Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to raise the minimum wage for workers to $15 an hour.
Status Coup is told that the Sanders’ campaign Slack channel had 70,000 active volunteers—more active members than the rapidly growing Democratic Socialists of America—yet that Slack channel and other organizing structures that were part of the campaign have not been transferred over and put in use to push Republicans, or Speaker Pelosi, on bolder and more immediate economic relief at a time when 39 million Americans have filed for unemployment.
A former high-level staffer said Bernie’s organizing army could be leveraged right now to help progressive congressional candidates and vulnerable incumbents like Rep. Rashida Tlaib win reelection in a close race.
“If Rashida Tlaib loses by 900 votes after winning by 900 votes last time and Bernie didn’t do anything to turn people out, I’m going to be pretty pissed off,” one staffer told Status Coup.
Another high-level staffer for Sanders’ 2020 campaign said Bernie’s refusal to organize and lead amid the Coronavirus pandemic is hurting the progressive movement.
“It sets the movement back because, for all the progress we made coming into 2020, a lot of things are going to fill that vacuum—and a lot of those things will not be good.”
But a different staffer who was more inclined to give Sanders the benefit of the doubt said critics shouldn’t underestimate that Sanders’ long-stated desire to defeat President Trump is making him more cautious than he normally would be in organizing against the Democratic Party.
He’s “willing to see literally anyone but Donald Trump win this election,” the staffer said.
But former campaign staffers don’t seem to agree; in a recent interview, former campaign national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray told Status Coup that Joe Biden should not feel like black people or progressives owe him their vote, stressing he is not yet the official Democratic nominee.
And former digital communications director for Sanders Josh Miller-Lewis blasted Biden on Twitter Wednesday for his campaign’s surface-level outreach to millennial voters.
This is embarrassing. We don't want virtual happy hours with young politicians. We want Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.
These people learned absolutely nothing from the success of a 78 year-old Senator with young people. https://t.co/LBmI9WBMBs
— Josh Miller-Lewis (@jmillerlewis) May 27, 2020
Other staffers have pointed out that Sanders hasn’t forcefully spoken out against the Democratic Party going along with the original Coronavirus relief bill—by all measures a $2 trillion bill that provided a massive corporate bailout while providing some decent measures like an additional $600 in unemployment benefits.
One high-level Sanders campaign staffer compared Bernie’s decision to vote for the bill—and not fight to stop it—to his decision in the early 1990s to vote for the crime bill; a bill whose mass incarceration provisions he opposed, and warned against, but also had the Violence Against Women’s provision that compelled him to vote for it.
The original corporate bailout bill—which once the $500 billion corporate provision is leveraged could increase the bailout number to corporations to $4-6 trillion— posed a “moral conundrum” for progressives like Sanders.
“You have things that are totally irresponsible coupled with things that are completely necessary and important,” the source familiar with Sanders thinking told Status Coup.
“It struck him emotionally deep down because he knows who his base was; working people across America, they’re the ones getting screwed, so if you put something in front of him that says an extra $600 a week for each of them, he has to deliver for them.”
For frustrated progressives, Sanders’ campaign press aide and Deputy Iowa State Director Bill Neidhardt suggested progressives need to see the bigger picture—even if it pains them.
“This movement is about creating a country and a world that treats working people with respect and sees the downfall of incredibly powerful and monied corporate interests as a priority,” Neidhardt told Status Coup.
“Anyone engaged in that fight, anyone who holds true to that mission, must see what Bernie sees and see the incredible need to defeat Donald Trump. Anyone who is spending the second half of 2020 not working as hard as they can to defeat Donald Trump is missing the forest for the trees.”
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