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Near the end of his well-crafted victory speech Saturday night, Joe Biden decried "the refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another." He went on to say that "we can decide to cooperate. And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate. That's the choice I'll make. And I call on the Congress -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- to make that choice with me."
If Biden chooses to "cooperate" with Mitch McConnell, that choice is likely to set off a political war between the new administration and the Democratic Party's progressive base.
After the election, citing "people familiar with the matter," Axios reported that "Republicans' likely hold on the Senate is forcing Joe Biden's transition team to consider limiting its prospective Cabinet nominees to those who Mitch McConnell can live with." Yet this spin flies in the face of usual procedures for Senate confirmation of Cabinet nominees.
"Traditionally, an incoming president is given wide berth to pick his desired team," Axios noted. But "a source close to McConnell tells Axios a Republican Senate would work with Biden on centrist nominees but no 'radical progressives' or ones who are controversial with conservatives. . . . This political reality could result in Biden having a more centrist Cabinet. It also gives Biden a ready excuse to reject left-of-center candidates, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, who have the enthusiastic backing of progressives."
Let's be clear: The extent to which Biden goes along with such a scenario of craven capitulation will be the extent to which he has shafted progressives before his presidency has even begun.
And let's be clear about something else: Biden doesn't have to defer to Mitch McConnell on Cabinet appointees. Biden has powerful leverage -- if he wants to use it. As outlined in a memo released days ago by Demand Progress and the Revolving Door Project, "President Biden will be under no obligation to hand Mitch McConnell the keys to his Cabinet."
The memo explains that Biden could fill his Cabinet by using the Vacancies Act -- which "provides an indisputably legal channel to fill Senate-confirmed positions on a temporary basis when confirmations are delayed."
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