WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After U.S. President Joe Biden gives his first joint address to Congress on Wednesday, one of the more progressive members of his own Democratic party, Representative Jamaal Bowman, plans to deliver a response.
It is routine for a member of the opposition party to give a rebuttal to a president’s address, and Republicans have chosen Senator Tim Scott to do so this time. But it is very unusual for someone from the president’s own party to deliver a reply.
Bowman, 45, a Black former middle school principal who ousted a 16-term incumbent in New York City last November, is expected to urge Biden to push forward with a progressive agenda while the party has control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate.
“His main message is that this is a narrow historic moment of opportunity ... and we need to take advantage of that and meet the moment with even bolder action on climate change, bold action to combat racial and economic inequality,” Bowman’s spokesman, Karthik Ganapathy, said. “He really feels the sense of urgency that this moment calls for.”
Biden is a moderate Democrat who pledged during the election campaign to work with Republicans on some issues, raising concerns among liberals he could slow down or water down the Democrats’ agenda instead of pushing through bold changes.
The Democrats have narrow majorities in the House and Senate. History suggests they could lose those majorities as early as next year at midterm elections, which often favor the party not in the White House.
The left-wing Working Families Party, a small party with activists in over a dozen states that asked Bowman to give the livestreamed reply to Biden on Wednesday night, is keenly aware of the historical precedents.
Its national director, Maurice Mitchell, recalled that another Democrat, former President Barack Obama, was elected in 2008 with a broad mandate, but by August 2009 the conservative Tea Party movement had changed the political debate. Fueled by the Tea Party surge, Republicans made huge gains and won the House in the 2010 midterms.
“So what should we learn from that? I think what we should learn is that if we want Democrats and progressives to be in a position for success, then our movement cannot demobilize,” Mitchell said. “And our movement needs to stay in the fight. We need to push the realm of what’s possible.”
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Karishma Singh
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