Read: How it feels to lose Bernie Sanders
The Sunrise Movement, which gave Biden an F grade for his climate agenda, has so far refused to endorse the former vice president. Still, Varshini Prakash, the group’s leader, said she is eager to serve on the climate panel. “When people have asked me, ‘How do you know that this won’t be lip service?’ my answer is, ‘I don’t,’” Prakash told me last week.
Her organization is dedicated to making the Green New Deal a reality, regardless of the Democratic Party’s nominee, she said, referencing the legislative proposal that would involve sweeping reforms to address climate change and economic inequality. When I asked Prakash what, specifically, she plans to bring up in her task-force meetings, she said she’ll urge Biden’s campaign to do three things: shorten its timelines to enact urgent climate policy, add an environmental-justice component to his platform, and hold fossil-fuel companies accountable for their harm to the environment and for disseminating misinformation. “I don’t expect to get everything that I want, but I’d expect to be listened to and engaged in principled debate about these things,” she said.
Several of the appointees I spoke with have real concerns about the efficacy of the project. The whole thing could still be a ruse meant to create the appearance of open-mindedness on the part of the Biden campaign, some said. At the same time, they told me, the panels present an opportunity—maybe the only one—for progressives to weigh in on the policy agenda for the next four years. Even more crucial, they said, is presenting a united Democratic front to take down Donald Trump.
“I would feel like a personal hypocrite if I didn't seize the chance to make a difference,” said Darrick Hamilton, the executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University and a key adviser to Sanders on issues of racial inequality. “I would be derelict in my responsibility.”
Sanders, who popularized the idea of Medicare for All in his 2016 presidential bid, has appointed three fervent Medicare for All advocates to Biden’s health-care task force: Representative Pramila Jayapal, the physician and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, and Donald Berwick, a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the Obama administration. Biden opposes Medicare for All and instead has argued for a public option and endorsed lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 60.
El-Sayed, the former executive director of the Detroit Health Department, has been critical of the former vice president’s health-care position. Still, El-Sayed agreed to join the panel. “We probably won’t be getting the full Medicare for All package. But I do know that what we will put together is so much better than what we have right now,” said El-Sayed, who told me that he hopes the task force can reach a consensus on how to expand health-insurance coverage and address the high price of prescription drugs. Biden is a better option than Trump, El-Sayed said, even if progressives don’t get the policy outcomes they’ve fought so hard for. “Even if you can’t score a touchdown, you can get three points in a field goal.”