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Biden And Sanders Announce Task Forces To Find Party Unity Over Policy

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seen here speaking at a campaign event for Bernie Sanders in March, has been named co-chair of a climate change task force to support party unity.
Jeff Kowalsky
AFP via Getty Images
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seen here speaking at a campaign event for Bernie Sanders in March, has been named co-chair of a climate change task force to support party unity.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his chief primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced on Wednesday the members of a joint task force meant to unify the party ahead of November's general election, bringing together figures from different wings of the party, ranging from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to former Secretary of State John Kerry.

The news comes a month after Sanders joined Biden via video stream to endorse him. The pair pledged to create these task forces to focus on shared policy concerns.

"Now, it's no great secret out there, Joe, that you and I have our differences, and we're not going to paper them over; that's real," Sanders said at the time. "But I hope that these task forces will come together utilizing the best minds and people in your campaign and in my campaign to work out real solutions to these very, very important problems."

Sanders and Biden had clashed on the campaign trail over issues including health care and Social Security.

The task forces bring together prominent surrogates from both camps in an effort to shore up support from progressives who supported Sanders in the primary but are wary of the more centrist Biden.

Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent surrogate of Sanders, will co-chair the climate change group alongside Kerry, a longtime Biden supporter. There are five other task forces tackling criminal justice reform, the economy, education, health care and immigration.

The first-year progressive congresswoman has said she would vote for Biden but explained to NPR's Morning Edition last week why she hasn't fully endorsed him yet. "I think an endorsement means, you know, we have come to a place where we've developed a vision together not just for winning in November, but for getting our country to a better place," she said.

When Sanders, an independent who identifies as a democratic socialist, was leading the primary race, Republicans had hoped to label the Democrats broadly as a socialist party. The policy work with Sanders and allies like Ocasio-Cortez are reviving those efforts, with a GOP response to the news calling Biden "the bannerman for the socialist agenda."

House Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., will co-chair the health care group alongside Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general during the Obama administration. Jayapal campaigned for Sanders in early primary states and supports "Medicare for All."

The health care task force also includes Dr. Donald Berwick, who served as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama.

The immigration group is headed by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which backed Sanders' immigration policies during the primary.

Leading the economy task force is Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. Bass is the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and endorsed Biden in early March. Nelson had joined Sanders for a virtual campaign event in March to discuss how the coronavirus pandemic was affecting her union members.

Chiraag Bains and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., will lead the criminal justice reform group. Another prominent member of the criminal justice task force is former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served in the Obama administration.

Heather Gautney and Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio., will co-chair the education group. Fudge serves on the House Committee on Education and Labor and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Gautney was a senior policy adviser to Sanders' presidential campaign.

In a statement, Biden underscored the need to unify the party: "From health care to reforming our justice system to rebuilding a more inclusive and fair economy, 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."

In the same statement, Sanders echoed his sentiments during the campaign, urging the party to think "big, act boldly and fight to change the direction of our country."

"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 said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.

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