In response to Biden’s State of Union, Rep. Rashida Tlaib will state facts though centrist Democrats don’t want to hear it
OPINION: Moderates don’t want the Michigan representative to mention their role in creating gridlock on the president’s agenda, but Tlaib will stay focused on fighting for Biden’s policies and everything the American people need.
Did y’all catch all of the headlines, pre-emptive messaging attacks and alarm bells centrist Democrats recently hurled at The Squad and progressive Democrats? You know, the repeated stories about how Squad politics will sink Democrats in the midterm elections and how Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address tonight is the equivalent of “keying your own car and slashing your own tires.”
When I tell you centrist Democrats are pressed, that is an understatement. But while they are all up in arms, Rep. Tlaib is staying focused on progressive Democrats’ mission of fighting to deliver on President Biden’s agenda and everything that the American people desperately need. Honestly, this has been their goal for years. So, it’s unclear why anyone is shocked or scared of what the congresswoman from Michigan will say tonight.
In an interview with the Nation, Rep. Tlaib makes it plain that she will remind President Biden of the same energy that he had on the 2020 campaign trail when he set a positive, inspiring vision for the country and how he didn’t hesitate to enact it when he took office, especially his swift action to pass the American Rescue Plan. “In particular, she will argue that Democrats need to refocus attention on the Build Back Better agenda as the 2022 midterm elections approach,” the Nation’s John Nichols writes. “‘I’ll literally say, ‘Mr. President, it’s unfinished. We’re here to help. Let’s get it done,’” Tlaib said.
This sounds 100 percent rational and factual to me. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has been front and center working to advance President Biden’s agenda, and Rep. Tlaib will celebrate achievements like the effectiveness of the child tax credit that Biden included in the American Rescue Plan and how it pulled millions of children out of poverty, how critical investments were throughout this pandemic in historically excluded communities as well as the president’s historic nomination of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Rep. Tlaib will also likely push Biden on critical issues like canceling student loan debt and expanding benefits and support for people experiencing poverty.
But the fact remains that the president’s agenda is unfinished, and the president and Democrats must use their majorities in Congress to refocus on delivering their campaign commitments as we approach the November midterm elections. Truly, this is the most basic of election strategies—help as many people as you can by delivering on what you promised.
The cornerstone of Rep. Tlaib’s speech tonight is that “It doesn’t have to be this way,” and her response is, quite frankly, a well-timed push for President Biden and Democrats to get to work. It’s not divisive to say that there is still a window of time where Democrats can pass components of the Build Back Better legislation that will help people right now. It’s not divisive to outline progressives’ continued support for President Biden’s vision and 2020 campaign promises. It’s not divisive to express the frustration and the urgency that people who are struggling across the nation are feeling in real time. It’s not divisive to tell the nation that progressives are fighting to deliver an agenda that is still overwhelmingly popular.
If only centrists saw things the same way.
In their minds, by calling out the reality that President Biden’s agenda is unfinished, centrist Democrats feel that tinge of stress in their chests because of their role in obstructing portions of his agenda alongside Republicans. I’m talking about those threats from centrist Democrats that prompted the decoupling of the bipartisan infrastructure deal from the Build Back Better Act, all but dooming the latter. And remember how centrists dragged out the negotiations for Build Back Better by repeatedly moving targets and forcing false choices between key provisions like lowering prescription drug costs or expanding Medicare benefits to include vision and dental coverage and extending the child tax credit or offering paid family leave.
Also, we can’t forget about how one week centrist Democrats were comfortable changing a congressional procedure to keep the United States from defaulting on its debts but refused to change that same congressional procedure the next week to pass critical voting rights laws at a moment when our democracy is under attack at the state and local levels. And just yesterday, a centrist Democrat joined Republicans in refusing to codify Roe as law at a moment when a 6-3 Supreme Court is set to issue rulings that will all but end access to abortion care. Their fingerprints are all over each of these moments, and instead of owning up to this reality, those same centrists want it to be glossed over.
Centrist Democrats don’t want Rep. Tlaib to mention their role in creating the conditions for the gridlock and inaction on President Biden’s agenda. So, instead, they introduce diversions—cue the flurry of headlines over the past two weeks. Then, they talk about how it’s irregular for members of the president’s party to offer a response to the State of the Union address—though it’s not. Rep. Jamaal Bowman offered remarks in 2021, also on behalf of the Working Families Party. So, this is not the first time remarks will be made while a Democratic occupies the White House.
Ultimately, their efforts are all for naught, and I fully expect that Rep. Tlaib will still call out the centrist Democrats as part of the problem, as she should.
Juanita Tolliver is a veteran political strategist and MSNBC Political Analyst who previously served as National Political Director at Supermajority and Director of Campaigns at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter: @juanitatolliver.
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