WASHINGTON – The presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden announced Wednesday the formation of a joint “unity task force” with supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, in an attempt to unify the Democratic Party ahead of the November 2020 general election.
The “unity task force” is made up of several committees devoted to specific policy issues, each one containing an equal number of supporters of the former vice president and the Vermont senator. Together, the members of these committees will be responsible for outlining policies and ideas for the Democratic Party’s platform and, if Biden wins the election, for a future administration.
The announcement is the latest indication that Biden’s campaign is trying to secure the support of Sanders’ fans. Veteran Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told Haaretz earlier this week that his polling shows there is a small but significant amount of Sanders supporters in key swing states who are currently not planning to vote for Biden in the presidential election, and that this could help President Donald Trump win in November.
Biden’s campaign is aware of this threat, and does not want to face a repeat of what happened in 2016, when the amount of left-leaning voters who gave their vote to the Green Party in key swing states was larger than Trump’s margin of victory in those same states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The committees include some prominent supporters of both politicians. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who endorsed Biden and campaigned for him, will lead the committee on climate change together with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed Sanders and has been promoting the “Green New Deal” legislation since entering Congress last year.
There are also committees on the economy, health care, education and criminal justice. One policy arena that Biden and Sanders had several disagreements about during the Democratic primaries, and that is absent from the task force’s list of priorities, is foreign policy. The focus of the different committees is entirely on domestic policies, at least for now.
During the primaries, Biden and Sanders offered different foreign policy visions that will be difficult to reconcile. Sanders attacked Biden for voting in favor of the Iraq War in 2003, and called to use U.S. military aid to Israel as “leverage” in order to force Israel to stop settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. Biden said that he opposes settlements and is critical of the Netanyahu government in Israel, but that it was “outrageous” for Sanders to suggest limiting or restricting military aid to Israel.
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Sanders also said he would “look into” the possibility of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv, whereas Biden said he would leave the embassy in its new location in Jerusalem. Biden added, however, that he would reopen the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem that primarily served the city’s Palestinian population, reversing a move the Trump administration took in an attempt to humiliate the Palestinians for not cooperating with the administration’s Middle East plan.
On Iran, both candidates attacked Trump for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal that was signed by the Obama administration in 2015. But Sanders said he would re-enter that deal on day one of his presidency, whereas Biden spoke about negotiating with Iran and making some updates and changes on top of the existing agreement.
It remains to be seen if the work of the unity task force will be expanded to also cover these issues. Biden said Wednesday that “a united party is key to defeating Donald Trump in November and moving our country forward,” adding that “the work of the task force 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.”
Sanders said in a statement that “the Democratic Party must think big, act boldly and fight to change the direction of the country,” and added: “I commend Joe Biden for working with my campaign to assemble a group of leading thinkers and activists who can and will unify our party in a transformational direction.”