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Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D. OH) Rolling Stone Interview Lays Out How Biden Can Beat Trump In 2020

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D. OH) is one of my favorite Senators. He’s a progressive champion who knows how to mobilize voters and build coalitions without having to compromise his beliefs. His suits and car are made in Ohio and he’s the only U.S. Senator who does not accept the government’s insurance plan for members of congress and instead is covered by the Affordable Care Act. He’s always been a top target of GOP Super PACs and right-wing billionaires but even as his home state of Ohio has trended red, the GOP has failed time and time again to defeat him. Brown is also a modern day historian on progressive politics in the U.S. Senate. His book, Desk 88, is a terrific read and my friend, Leon Nixon, had the opportunity to co-narrate the audio book version. On the topic of suggested reading, Brown was recently interviewed by Rolling Stone and I strongly recommend you give it a read because Brown offers Joe Biden and the Democratic Party some solid advice on how to prepare to get ready to defeat Donald Trump in the upcoming election:

Brown has a message for his fellow Democrats, too. If they want to win back not only the working-class voters they lost in 2016 but also mobilize the multiracial coalition they need to beat Trump, they’ll need to rethink the American electorate altogether. It’s a message that Brown will soon be sharing on behalf of former Vice President Joe Biden; this week, Brown voted (early) for Biden in Ohio’s primary and plans to help Biden’s campaign later this year. “Voters don’t see politics as left or right,” he says. “This whole idea that independent voters are in the middle — that they’re less liberal than Democrats and less conservative than Republicans — is crap. People don’t see themselves as conservative/liberal; people see themselves. And people see politicians as ‘Whose side are you on?’ ”

Here’s the key part of the interview:

Is there a misconception of what the working and middle classes look like? After the 2016 election there was a lot of hand-wringing about how Democrats failed to appeal to the white working class in the Midwest.

Generally, when people say “workers,” maybe they’re thinking construction; they’re thinking maybe more of men than women. They’re thinking not necessarily more white than people of color; I don’t know if that’s the case or not. But we’ve got to always speak expansively.

My wife’s mother was a home-care worker. She died at 62. Her dad died at 69. Connie has said that they wore out their bodies so we didn’t have to wear out ours.

I was at my high school reunion, I think my 40th. They had an easel with the pictures of kids who we know have died of the 400 in the class. And it was a pretty consequential number, and they were mostly low-income white and black kids. The other thing I remember: I sat across from a woman in my class. She worked at JP Morgan Chase as a bank teller for 30 years. She was making $30,000 a year. We ought to be thinking about them as workers.

It’s a broad group of people that do most of the work in the day. It’s the people that you’re allowed to ignore. It’s the food-service -worker; it’s the custodian in this building [the Hart Senate Office Building]. This building is way too white during the day, and it’s a whole lot of Latina and mostly women, not entirely, and black people that come in and clean up. There’s too much of that in society.

I couldn’t agree more with this argument. To his credit, Biden has been focusing heavily on uniting the party to get ready to take on Trump:

Joseph R. Biden Jr. took some of his first steps to bring together the Democratic Party now that he is its presumptive presidential nominee, announcing proposals on Thursday to lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 60 and to expand student debt forgiveness programs for low-income and middle-class families.

The proposals are part of an explicit effort to appeal to the progressive wing of the party led by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who dropped out of the race on Wednesday.

“Senator Sanders and his supporters can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas,” Mr. Biden, the former vice president, said in a statement announcing the package.

Top Sanders aides had been intensifying talks with the Biden campaign in recent days to find common ground on policies. The Biden team’s willingness to move in Mr. Sanders’s direction was a key factor in the senator’s decision to exit the race.

Of course, progressive organizations are pushing Biden to adopt more of their policies:

Progressive groups that haven often been aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders are pushing Joe Biden to keep Wall Street executives and business leaders from being part of his administration if he wins the presidency.

While the former vice president has said he has not started speaking with possible members of his potential cabinet, he recently told donors that he has been discussing with his advisors who he would ask to join his administration. Biden is currently in the process of considering candidates to be his vice presidential running mate.

After Sanders dropped out of the race Wednesday, several progressive groups signed a letter to Biden calling on him to pledge that he will not appoint leaders on Wall Street and K-Street, or those in the fossil fuel and health care industries to campaign advisory roles or to cabinet posts.

The letter, which can be found here, also calls on Biden to assign people who endorsed Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another progressive, to be co-chairs of his prospective transition team. The groups also urge him to appoint advisors such as Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor who is an advocate for the “Green New Deal,” to his National Economic Council. Stiglitz was reportedly on a list of advisors being pushed to Hillary Clinton by Warren in 2014 before the former secretary of State ran for president.

The groups signing the letter to Biden include Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and NextGen Action.

You can read the whole letter here.

And Biden’s campaign has been reaching out to the progressive groups that backed Bernie Sanders:

Joe Biden’s campaign is mounting an aggressive behind-the-scenes effort to address the biggest weakness of his candidacy: A lack of enthusiasm among the liberal base, particularly young voters.

Since his landslide victories earlier this month, Biden’s advisers have engaged in talks with a range of top progressive groups, including some that endorsed his chief rival, Bernie Sanders, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversations. The outreach to left-wing organizations and individuals — representing causes from climate change and immigrant rights to gun control and mobilizing underserved black and brown communities — is focused on young activists. Broadly speaking, they viewed Biden as one of the least-inspiring candidates in the sprawling Democratic primary field.

It’s a delicate dance for both sides. For one, Sanders is still in the race. Plus, the progressives recognize that their time and leverage to influence Biden is limited since he’s all but wrapped up the nomination. Still, Biden needs to fix his enthusiasm deficit, which was partly masked by his wins this month, and it’s far from certain that antipathy toward President Donald Trump alone will do the job.

The activists are seeking commitments from the Biden campaign on their issues, knowing that any headway is likely to be on the margins; Biden, for instance, will never come close to Sanders on policies like “Medicare for All.” It’s a distinct letdown for them after coming tantalizingly close to getting Sanders as the nominee. To win the nomination now, Sanders would need to win more than 60 percent of the remaining delegates.

“The dirty little secret is everyone’s talking to Biden’s campaign,” said Sean McElwee, co-founder of the liberal think tank Data for Progress. “There will be fights, but at the end of the day, progressives still hold votes in the Senate and increasingly Democratic voters stand behind our views. I expect we’ll see Biden embracing key planks of the ambitious agenda progressives have outlined on issues like climate and pharmaceutical policy.”

Biden’s team is treating the project like a minicampaign. It has formed an internal working group dedicated to outreach to progressives, which met this week, and is crafting a timeline of engagement over the next few weeks. Senior Biden advisers Symone Sanders and Cristóbal Alex, along with policy director Stef Feldman, are leading the effort.

While Biden is taking party unity seriously, we should also acknowledge that 2020 is not 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamics of this race:

In early March, after Covid-19 had grounded him back in Vermont, Mr. Sanders would become less direct in his critique of Mr. Biden and more so of Mr. Trump. He adopted an increasingly disdainful tone against the president. “The first thing we have to do, whether or not I’m president, is to shut this president up right now,” Mr. Sanders said last month in what would be the final Democratic debate of the 2020 primary race. “It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with un-factual information that is confusing to the general public.”

In a sense, the clear and present threat of the coronavirus softened the debate that had raged for much of 2019 and early 2020. “This virus thing makes it very hard to be political,” said Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate majority leader. It has focused attention on Mr. Trump in a way that highlights the president’s shortcomings, Mr. Reid added. It also served to minimize the policy differences that were apparent during the Democratic primary race.

“That divide is literally now a matter of life and death,” said Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California and a national co-chairman of the Sanders campaign. Mr. Khanna said he believed progressives would eventually win the day, and would become the dominant force inside the Democratic Party. Not yet, though.

“Maybe that moment will be in 2024, maybe that moment will be in 2028,” Mr. Khanna said. “But the choice in this election is about as clear as can be right now.”

Either way, we have our work cut out for us and we have to get ready. Click here to donate and get involved with Biden’s campaign.