WASHINGTON — Six months ago, government-sponsored income and health care sounded like pipe dreams from failed presidential candidates. In a post-coronavirus world, progressives hope, they aren’t so far-fetched.
The pandemic has already brought bipartisan support to left-wing policies that would have been off the table before 2020, including direct stimulus payments to Americans, an expansion of unemployment coverage and a requirement that many companies offer paid sick leave.
Now progressives see an opportunity to build on those gains, potentially pushing policy to the left for the long term.
“What this has exposed is the economic precariousness of so many Americans, and now many people empathize with that,” said Fremont Rep. Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat. “They no longer see the struggling as the other, but actually view themselves in solidarity with people who have been on the economic sidelines. So I think that the support for an agenda for economic security and economic dignity will have a broader coalition.”
In the near term, progressives are pushing for Democrats to ensure more priorities in the next coronavirus relief package that Congress takes up. Khanna is hopeful that pieces of his proposed list of rights for essential workers with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren could be included, such as safety standards for frontline workers, living wages, collective bargaining protections, paid family and sick leave and support for child care, and guaranteed basic income.
The roughly 80-member Congressional Progressive Caucus has also written to House Democratic leadership asking that expanded direct cash assistance, food security and eviction protection, and full coverage for COVID-19 care be in the next relief bill.
But over the long term, progressives are also looking to make some of those changes permanent.
“If we can get some of the priorities in the COVID bill to help people now … we can then make the case when the crisis is over that some of these things are so basic they need to stay,” Khanna said. “If we can get worker protections in the COVID bill and get the fact that people should be paid more decently and they should have child care, all the things that seem obvious now, then they seem much harder to take away after.”
He added it would be hard to tell the workers who were on the front lines during the pandemic, “Now that you’ve done your job for society, we’re going to take it back.”
It’s not just progressives who see opportunity for long-term changes. Republicans are pushing for tax cuts that have long been central to their economic policies, as well as liability protections for businesses. The right flank of the party also sees the pandemic as reason to further restrict immigration and pull back from globalism and free trade.
But in a moment where Congress is doling out trillions to help struggling workers, progressives believe the political winds are at their backs.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested last week that she was open to pushing one progressive idea in talks over the next bill, a universal basic income that would go beyond the $1,200 one-time payments in earlier legislation.
“Others have suggested a minimum income for — a guaranteed income for people. Is that worthy of attention now? Perhaps so,” the San Francisco Democrat said on MSNBC. “Because there are many more people than just in small business … and other people who are not in the public sector, you know, meeting our needs in so many ways, that may need some assistance as well.”
Neera Tanden, president of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress, said the country has made major structural changes in past crises, such as the New Deal during the Great Depression and Reconstruction after the Civil War. The pandemic is one such moment, she said.
The coronavirus crisis “exposes conservative libertarian thinking, in a sense, because essentially the actions of each individual can affect larger communities and the larger country,” Tanden said. “The unique challenge of the virus is if someone isn’t getting access to the health care system and has the virus, it affects everyone.”
Progressives aren’t just making the case for a stronger social safety net. They also see opportunities to address climate change, bolstered by a renewed appreciation for science. They argue that the changes Americans made to their lifestyle overnight for coronavirus are evidence that they can alter longstanding habits to tackle climate change, too.
They also intend to portray increased spending on domestic programs as a matter of national security, something that’s always been the province of military budgets.
“In the big picture, we prepared for the wrong war in the aftermath of 9/11,” said Palo Alto Rep. Anna Eshoo, a more moderate Democrat who chairs a key subcommittee on health care. “Which is understandable, but where we are now looking over my shoulder, I can’t help but think that.”
Khanna has said the National Defense Authorization Act, a yearly must-pass bill, could be a vehicle for lasting progressive changes. He predicted Americans will see that spending $740 billion on defense but $50 billion on public health is misguided. Less money for defense spending, he said, could mean big investments elsewhere.
“Do people around this country really think that the big risk to them is that Russian tanks are going to come into Ohio, or do they think that the bigger risk is we may have future pandemics?” Khanna said. “We need to talk as progressives about how our broken priorities in Washington have hurt the safety of the American people.”
One area where progressives could have a harder time coming out of the pandemic, however, is immigration. Advocates of a welcoming immigration policy may struggle to convey that message when unemployment is in double digits. In a recent Washington Post poll, voters supported 2-1 a policy temporarily suspending immigration to the U.S. during the pandemic, and President Trump has been advocating his agenda of restricting immigration as necessary to help jobless Americans.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., conceded in The Chronicle’s “It’s All Political” podcast that Democrats may need to recalibrate their message in the face of the virus’ economic consequences.
“We need to address it based on the dynamic that exists after we get through the pandemic,” said Harris, a strong proponent of immigration rights. For now, she said she’s been focusing on ensuring that the administration is protecting the rights of immigrants who are already here, including the safety of farm workers integral to the food-supply chain, and ensuring there aren’t virus outbreaks among undocumented migrants in detention centers.
In an interview with CNBC, Pelosi sounded optimistic that the country would come out of the pandemic less socially stratified, not more.
“I’m very confident that when people realize the assault that this has made, not only the health, the lives of the people and the livelihood of the people but to the sense of community of who we are as a country, we’ll have an opportunity to do something working together,” Pelosi said.
She added that opportunity will include “recognizing the role that every aspect of our society plays in it — the public sector (and) private sector.”
Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down
Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.
A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.
“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.
Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.
The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.
While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.
The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government
Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER
“We’ll be back, soon.”
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”
NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS
“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER
“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to
@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”
TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER
“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”
FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN
“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”
BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER
“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”
CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”
MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”
DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”
EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”
SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)
Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.
Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.
But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”
The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.
Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.
The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.
Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)
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