The Power of an Unapologetically Progressive President
By Zach Toillion
The next President can’t count on Congress to do much. Instead, they’ll need to know how to effectively wield power unilaterally. Luckily for them, the President can do quite a bit by him/herself. Candidates from the progressive wing make up the majority of the party, and the odds of one of the more left wing candidates getting the nominations is much higher. This is what his or her agenda would look like. (Sanders is who I had in mind writing this piece, but several candidates could potentially do this)
A progressive Cabinet.
Democrats have the opportunity to put together the first truly progressive Cabinet in a generation. The Obama administration had a record number of Republicans in its ranks, and Obama Carter and Clinton were moderates-all seen in their choice of Cabinet officials.
A deeply progressive President would put Ed Markey, Al Gore and Ernest Moniz in charge of environmental and energy policy. Robert Reich, Joseph Stiglitz, and Elizabeth Warren would round out a deeply progressive economic team. Rand and/or Ron Paul, James Zogby, Chuck Hagel and Tulsi Gabbard would lead a non interventionist foreign policy team. Other administrative roles would go to whatever progressives didn’t win the Presidency-people like Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Andrew Yang. The DOJ would be filled with reformers like Philly DA Larry Krasner. Staffing other posts would be rising young stars in the party like Aryanna Pressley, Pramila Jayapal and Alexandria Cortez. The idea behind the Cabinet would be a fusion of FDR’s “brain trust”, the Youth of the Clinton Cabinet and Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals”.
The following would only happen if Bernie Sanders was elected President. The US would no longer have to cover for Israel at the UN. Resolutions condemning Israel’s use of bombing targets like hospitals could be officially condemned. The UN could vote for Palestinian statehood, reigniting the prospect of a two state solution. All the US would have to do is not intervene for both of these things to happen. The only reason these things haven’t happened is because of UN vetoes by the United States.
The first actions the President would take are legal matters. Taking Marijuana off the Scheduled substance list allowing it to be studied as a medicine in more effective ways would be very effective. Second, would be offering clemency to a massive amount of nonviolent drug offenders-particularly those who were imprisoned on simple possession charges. It’s within the realm of possibility someone like Sanders would just grant clemency to all of them at once. This would give tens of thousands of people a new change on life. Sanders has also committed to enacting a moratorium on the death penalty at the federal level, banning the death penalty for federal crimes for the first time since the 1970’s. Public opinion would firmly back Sanders on the marijuana issues but is opposed to his death penalty stance. Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Reality Winner and Chelsea manning would all receive a Presidential pardon for being whistleblowers and political prisoners. Former Gov. Don Siegelman should receive a commutation of his sentence for being a political prisoner.
Returning to Obama policies
The next order of business would be a return to many of the same policies of the Obama administration. A Sanders administration would re-insitute the Obama gun control executive action, as limited as it was. DACA would be put back into place, possibly rewritten to let even more undocumented people stay. Both policies had over 60 percent support and would build good will from the 12 million undocumented living in the shadows in the US. A Democratic President would quickly undo all the deregulation orders Trump signed.
The next Democratic President should put in place aggressive new fuel efficiency standards, and use the authority of the clean air act to cap carbon emissions. The President would have the power to save huge swaths of federal land from being poisoned and developed much like Theodore Roosevelt did a century ago, and could also give ocean reefs a protected status. Also a must? Re-implementation Obama’s Clean Power Rules.
Democrats could first implement most of his domestic policy plans with federal workers, as Obama did in the last few years of his administration. This would include hiring contractors that met the criteria of what they intended to pass as federal law-including a $15 minimum wage, generous paid time off including maternity and paternity leave, as well as equity of pay between genders written into contracts.
All government building should begin to be carbon neutral, and fleets of vehicles would run on alternative energy-making the biggest employer in the United States, the government, also the most green.
A series of commissions need to put in place to solve major problems, and unlike any binding legislation, these would easily pass. To add to the veneer of credibility, the committees could be bipartisan, (A clever President would make sure even the independent and Republican members of the groups have liberal ideas) Commissions should be set up looking into:
-How to address climate change
-How to curb excessive drug deaths (the opioid crisis)
-How to increase voter turnout and civil participation
The idea of a respected commission is almost always popular with the American people, and if Republicans then vote against their own proposals a political price will be paid for their intransigence.
Codifying Norms into Law
If elected, outgoing President Trump will have proven a historically unpopular President and the Sanders Department of Justice would likely look into any abuses of power by the previous administration (unrelated to the Russia affair). It would be then used as a pretext for passing laws in Congress that make most Presidential norms legally binding. Simply reforms that most Republicans would support could be thrown in. Ideas like:
1)A President must divest from their business interests.
2)Firm anti-nepotism laws for officials not confirmed by Congress.
3)All Presidents should be required to disclose all foreign business dealings and visits.
4)All Presidential candidates must release a decade of tax returns.
5)If a case file exists on a President, it must be released within a certain brief period of time.
Sanders would then re-enter a series of multinational treaties. The US would re-enter the Iran Deal, Paris Accords, and continue establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba. All of these treaties and negotiations had over two thirds support when Trump pulled us out of them. Sanders wouldn’t simply tow the Obama line though. Like Trump, he wouldn’t seek to revive TPP and would seek diplomatic cooperation with Russia-particularly in terms of nuclear arms reduction. Sanders would also continue the bilateral and trilateral talks started by Trump with North Korea. Sanders would also continue the Trump policy in Afghanistan of negotiation directly with the Taliban (although with the aims of withdrawal in the near future).
The new President could get through Senate ratification of a treaty to reduce nuclear weapons. Treaties with Russia/The Soviet Union have proven popular in the past under Carter, Reagan and Obama. Nuclear arm reduction enjoys vast political popularity.
Filling the Courts
Soon in the next Presidency, The next Democratic President would have to deal with the likely retirements of several Supreme Court justices. As a candidate, Sanders offered liberal icon Thurgood Marshall as his model of Supreme Court Justice. As a Senator, Sanders also echoed many of the legal arguments espoused by John Paul Stevens. As President, Sanders would find the most left wing judges he could that could still get through a nomination fight. He’d be doing it a lot too. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 88 when the next President takes office and Justice Stephen Breyer will be 84. Both liberal justices will have served on the court for over 25 years. Assuming he doesn’t retire before then, Clarence Thomas’s time on the court may be coming to a close. At the start of the next President’s term, he’ll have served on the court for 30 years, the most of any justice. Thomas’s tenure puts him at the upper end of time spent on the Supreme Court. If Democrats don’t control the Senate and Republicans attempt to hold nominees hostage for years, it’ll be time for the President to attempt a recess appointment, a move Obama should have tried with Merrick Garland.
Mitch McConnell already destroyed basically all the rules that make appointing judges a slow process. The next Democratic President should simply do the reverse of what Trump did-pack the courts with justices that are decidedly liberal. The goal would be to put about 150 lower court liberal justices on the bench within 4 years.
Legislation that could pass a divided Congress
Democrats could hold their caucus and even get a few Republicans to vote in favor of an infrastructure package. A Trillion dollar infrastructure package would be the first item on any Democrat’s radar because of it’s cross partisan appeal and immense popularity.
Criminal justice reform is also a bipartisan issue. The entire Democratic caucus would be in favor of a bill rolling back provisions of the 1994 crime bill. About five to ten Republicans would also be in favor of a bill that would give judges more sentencing leeway, ended sentencing disparity, reformed mandatory minimums and three strikes laws.
New tax cuts on low to middle income Americans exclusively would pass even if Republicans controlled the House and Senate, as would the Toomey-Manchin background check bill for gun sales.
Legislation that could pass a fully Democratic Congress
If paired with tax cuts for middle class Americans, Democrats could easily pass new taxes on millionaires and billionaires as well as financial speculation, also eliminating a series of tax credits for businesses. This type of tax policy has over 70 percent support and would raise hundreds if billions to trillions of dollars over ten years.
Increases to Social Security benefits and Pell Grants are universal in terms of Democratic support. Democrats would also vote in favor of raising the minimum wage-15 dollars would be the opening negotiation, but would likely be wrangled down to 12 dollars.
Democrats would be wise to extend Washington DC and Puerto Rico statehood. DC voted for it by referendum in 2016 with nearly 90 percent of the vote, and the city council passed a statehood resolution unanimously. Puerto Rico voted for statehood with 97 percent of the vote in 2017. The Democrats would support this quite easily. It’d give representation to people who pay taxes and would be carrying out the will of the voters. It’s give Democrats 4 new Senators, and probably 4 out of the 6 new Representatives.
A bipartisan health care package should be sent to Congress on day one. The Legislation would allow for the VA and Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and allow for the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada. All of these measures have support from Libertarians like Ted Cruz, Republican Moderates, and the entire Democratic Party.
The Democratic President should initially fight for Medicare for All, and make the case for why it’s the ultimate health care end game, however that won’t likely pass the Senate. Lowering the age for Medicare as well as a public option would pass on a party-line vote.
The President would reinstate key funding Trump removed from the ACA-making the law much more stable. Second would be to tighten up regulations on health plans, criminalizing the “skinny” plans that provide no coverage and driving up costs for everyone.
Making the case
President Bush made the case Social Security was going bankrupt and wouldn’t be around for future generations. He tried to privatize the program and it failed. Regardless, the conventional wisdom of the program still holds, even if the program failed. That’s why Democrats need to forcefully push for a bold program.
The next Democratic President should actively make the case for a series of liberal policy ideals, regardless of whether or not they can pass. These programs include free college, ending cash bail, abolishing the death penalty, a negative income tax, and a radical green new deal.
The next Democratic President would experience success not seen since FDR if they followed this advice. The amount of change would be transformational in a way no recent Democratic President has been.