Democrats’ Big Tent Helped Them Win. Now It Threatens Biden’s Agenda.

Mr. Sanders took aim at the recent news that a moderate think tank, Third Way, was working on a project seeking to push Democrats toward the center for the midterm elections. He said that issues like canceling student debt, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and combating climate change were “political winners.”

The American working class today — white, Black, Latino — they are hurting. They want us to respond vigorously,” he said. “If we do so, I think that they will reward us in 2022. If we fail them, and the Republicans can go around and say, ‘Hey, you gave these people the House, the Senate and the White House and they did nothing for you,’ we will not do well in 2022.”

Still, the entrenchment by moderate senators — and the president’s current deference to it — presents a challenge for activists hoping to influence the administration. And while progressive elected officials are confident that Mr. Biden will side with them in the end, a growing chorus of activists is looking to him for more immediate action.

K Trainor, a student activist who has worked with progressive groups to turn out college students for Democrats, said Mr. Biden’s answer at the town hall was deeply disappointing. She said that if the administration didn’t deliver for young voters, it would make it harder to persuade them to turn out in future elections.

“I think a lot of people in my generation are asking, ‘Where is the courage?’” Ms. Trainor said. “It feels like they’re backtracking and we’re not even 100 days in.”

The Rev. William J. Barber II, a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign who organized the West Virginia workers’ meeting with Mr. Manchin, said the debate reflected an ugly underbelly of Democratic politics. While poor and low-income workers, particularly those who are racial minorities or young people, make up the core of the Democratic base, he said, the policies that they care about most have often been sacrificed because of political calculations.

They are the human cost of the big tent, he said.

“Democrats ran on this, they put it in their platform and they said this is what needs to happen,” Dr. Barber said. “It would be the ultimate abandonment and betrayal to then get here and have the power to do it, and then retreat.”

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