Is Joe Biden pivoting to the right?: On energy and immigration, the president has been tacking towards the center, which some supporters attribute to the chief of staff change earlier this year.
What is Joe Biden Doing?
There have been rumblings in recent months about the Biden Administration tacking a bit towards the right, on several key issues from energy to immigration policy.
According to Slate, the administration approved the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, despite campaign promises from 2020 that there would be no more drilling on federal lands. Also this spring, Biden announced a new border restriction policy and moved to block a new criminal code passed by the city government in Washington, D.C.
The story, and other recent ones, attributed the recent change to the appointment as White House Chief of Staff of Jeffrey Zients, who replaced Ron Klain earlier this year.
“From the moment Zients has arrived, the administration has either reversed course or leaned further into conservative policies,” Slate said.
“On Arctic drilling, immigration, and more, the White House has staked out new positions fiercely at odds with activist groups and with many members of the Democratic caucus. Those same policies, though, would have been very much at home in the Obama administration, which expanded Arctic drilling and pursued punitive action on immigration.”
“It’s not only the wrong thing to do — according to the latest polls, it also isn’t winning voters over to him,” Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic wrote. He went on to describe Zients as a “former private equity maven,” as opposed to Klain, who was “progressive-curious.”
This has frequently happened with Democratic presidents in the past, especially after Republicans have captured at least one house of Congress. Bill Clinton pivoted strongly to the middle near the end of his own first term. Of course, as in the case of Clinton, Biden will likely be called anti-energy, open-borders, and soft on crime by his opponents regardless of what he does.
However, that story also cited a recent poll showing that Biden’s approval rating has not improved of late.
Politico also noticed earlier this month, a shift by Joe Biden, noting that the president’s budget proposal has emphasized deficit reduction, the DC move, and the immigration and oil drilling changes.
“For two-plus years, Biden has done a better-than-expected job keeping progressives and moderates together,” Politico said in early March. “He seems awfully unlikely to draw a primary challenger from the left, especially given the fact that the most influential progressive, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is already backing Biden. And the DNC’s recently adopted primary schedule offers additional insurance by making South Carolina, where moderates have an advantage, the first primary state.”
Klain, the recently departed chief of staff, denied this to Politico at the time.
“The punditry has never understood Biden — and they still don’t,” Klain told the outlet. “The president set an all-time record for deficit reduction during his first two years by raising taxes on big corporations, and closing loopholes.” He added that the new budget is just a “continuation” of that.
The New York Times, around the same time, published an analysis showing that Biden was trying to recapture the centrist identity that he has held for the bulk of his political career.
“It’s a good day to be a moderate Democrat,” Matt Bennett, head of the centrist group Third Way, told the Times in that piece after the budget proposal was released. “We’re back, better than ever.”
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“It’s not hard to see the logic, since it’s the same one Democrats like Biden have stuck to their entire careers: when you’re under attack from the Right, move to the center and adopt right-wing policies, giving yourself political cover while at the same time peeling off conservative voters,” the Jacobin story said.
Expertise and Experience:
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.