Biden, Sanders announce AOC, Kerry, Jayapal as co-chairs of unity task forces

The groups mark another attempt to unify the party ahead of November.

May 13, 2020, 9:45 AM

Former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders announced the members of six joint unity task forces Wednesday morning, which will “explore possible policy initiatives”--another notable step by the Democratic leaders trying to unite their party ahead of the November election.

The eight member groups include a blend of members from progressive and establishment viewpoints to fill out the groups that were first announced along with Sanders’ endorsement of Biden back in April, and will focus on climate change, criminal justice reform, the economy, education, health care, and immigration policy.

While Biden became the party's presumptive nominee much earlier than in recent cycles, the former vice president has faced the challenge of appealing to Sanders supporters who fervently backed his progressive policies.

“A united party is key to defeating Donald Trump this November and moving our country forward through an unprecedented crisis. As we work toward our shared goal, it is especially critical that we not lose sight of the pressing issues facing Americans,” Biden said in a statement on the task force.

“The work of the task forces will be essential to identifying ways to build on our progress and not simply turn the clock back to a time before Donald Trump, but transform our country,“ he added.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, greet one another before they participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, March 15, 2020.
Evan Vucci/AP, FILE

Among the notable names that will co-chair the various task forces is New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive star who was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress in 2018 at the age of 29.

Ocasio-Cortez will co-chair a group tasked with molding Biden’s climate policy alongside former Secretary of State John Kerry, a longtime ally of the former vice president who was active on the campaign 2020 campaign trail, and worked during the Obama administration to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement, which the United States exited out of under President Donald Trump.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, a spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez said she made the decision after consultation with the climate justice community, adding that she will be “fully accountable to them and the larger advocacy community during this process.”

“[The congresswoman] believes the movement will only be successful if we continue to apply pressure both inside and outside the system. This is just one element of the broader fight for just policies,” the spokesperson added.

Republicans immediately attacked Biden following the announcement that Ocasio-Cortez, a regular target for criticism from the right, would be joining the policy group, attempting to label the presumptive Democratic nominee a socialist.

“Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are two sides of the same socialist coin. Now with his full embrace of AOC’s radicalism, Biden is the bannerman for the socialist agenda,” a release from the Republican National Committee said on Wednesday.

Two other major Sanders allies, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, will serve on the task force focused on healthcare, a major sticking point between the former vice president and the Vermont senator that continually arose during the primary.

In a statement on the announcement, Sanders credited Biden for his work in assembling the policy teams to both unite and move the party forward.

“To create an agenda that the working class of this country desperately needs, and moves us toward a more just society, we must solicit the best ideas. I commend Joe Biden for working together with my campaign to assemble a group of leading thinkers and activists who can and will unify our party in a transformational and progressive direction,” Sanders wrote.

Some other notable names serving on various task forces include Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who will co-chair the group focused on education, former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, who will focus on criminal justice reform, as well as California Congresswoman and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, who will focus on the economy.

A slew of other Sanders and Biden allies fill out the rest of the working groups, which will meet ahead of the Democratic convention slated for August, and “make recommendations to the DNC Platform Committee and to Vice President Biden directly” according to the release announcing the committee memberships.

The move also comes a few weeks after the Biden and Sanders campaigns came to a deal that will allow the Vermont senator to retain delegates he otherwise would have had to forfeit following his exit from the race and maintain influence at this summer’s convention, another attempt to unify the party and quell the concerns of the progressive movement ahead of the general election.

“While Senator Sanders is no longer actively seeking the nomination, the Biden campaign feels strongly that it is in the best interest of the party and the effort to defeat Donald Trump in November to come to an agreement regarding these issues that will ensure representation of Sanders supporters and delegate candidates, both on the floor and in committees,” a joint statement from the two campaigns released with the agreement last month said.

In the weeks since Sanders’s departure from the 2020 race, Biden has signaled a willingness to work on evolving his policy view, telling donors last month he asked his team to develop additional policies to add to existing proposals.

“I'm committed to seeing that these good ideas, wherever I can find them on every issue, are brought into the campaign,” Biden said

Biden has extended an olive branch of sorts, adopting some left leaning policies including lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60, and forgiving federal student loan debt for graduates whose families make less than $125,000, and attended public colleges and universities, as well as private Historically Black Colleges and Universities or Minority Serving Institutions.

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