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What progressives think of President Biden's first 100 days

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President Joe Biden is approaching the 100-day mark in his term. CBS News political contributor and Democratic strategist Joel Payne and Briahna Joy Gray, the former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign, joined CBSN's Tanya Rivero with how progressives are reacting to Biden's first 100 days.

Video Transcript

TANYA RIVERO: President Biden will give his first address to a Joint Session of Congress tomorrow night. The speech comes as he is nearing the mark of his first 100 days in office. He did not give a traditional address to Congress earlier in the year. The White House said he was focusing on COVID matters.

Senator Tim Scott will give the Republican response to Mr. Biden's address. This comes as questions are raised as to what Republicans and progressives think of his first 100 days in office. I want to bring in Joel Payne and Briahna Joy Gray now. Joel is a CBS News political contributor and Democratic strategist. Briahna is a former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign and the co-host of "The Bad Faith" podcast.

Welcome to both of you. Great to have you with us. Joel, I'm going to start with you. President Biden ran as the moderate candidate in the Democratic party. Is that how he has governed so far in his first 100 days?

JOEL PAYNE: Well, President Biden has certainly governed in a way that I think has probably surprised a lot of progressives, and it's probably befuddled a lot of Republicans, people on the other side of the aisle. The president has been very hard to box in. I think obviously, stylistically, he has, rather, governed in a way that appeals to a broad base of Americans-- Independents, Republicans, and obviously, Democrats.

But the policy, the actual prescriptions that the Biden administration are laying out, be it, the more than $1 trillion COVID package, be it the multitrillion dollar infrastructure package that he's going to be laying out more information about this week, I think the president has demonstrated himself to be pretty bold and pretty progressive. And they have unlocked the right mixture of style and substance that I think befuddles his political adversaries and I think has won him more plaudits than I think we would have assumed after the campaign of the last two years.

TANYA RIVERO: And so Briahna, from the progressive's point of view, would you agree? How is President Biden performed vis-a-vis your expectations? Has his first 100 days been what you expected? Are you pleased? Disappointed?

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: It's important not just to measure Joe Biden's performance against our individual subjective expectations, but by what the moment, the political moment, the economic moment, requires of him. He came into office at a period, obviously, where COVID was causing crises across the board. 15 million Americans lost their insurance last year because we have an employer-based health care system that connects your ability to get treated for ailments to your ability to maintain a job.

We live in a crisis where the unemployment rates are still incredibly high, particularly among historically disenfranchised groups. And of course, a lot of people at the bottom tier of our society who have been locked out of the so-called American dream were really, really looking forward to campaign promises like getting a $2,000 check, not this abbreviated check that ultimately went to even fewer people than the Trump check.

So we have to keep in mind that while for some Americans, the outlook is good, for millions of Americans who suffered worse in the context of this crisis, Joe Biden still needs to be pushed to do a lot more.

TANYA RIVERO: All right. Well, we'll get to that in a moment. But Joel, you've worked on the Hill when the president was in Congress. You were an aide to former Majority Leader Harry Reid when Mr. Biden became vice president. Have you noticed a shift in Joe Biden's personal beliefs and ideology over the last 15 years or so, or do you think he's following the shifts that the Democratic Party itself is experiencing?

JOEL PAYNE: I think the president has certainly evolved on a subset of issues, I mean, be it social issues, be it some of the things that he's believed in terms of foreign policy. I think the president has certainly evolved over the last decade. Look, I think he's grown as any public servant would grow and as you would hope that they would grow.

I think Briahna brings up such a good point, though, about meeting the moment, and I think that's what's been so impressive about President Biden is that he has been able to figure out how to unlock the right message for each moment. When he needed to bring the Democratic Party together during that contentious primary or at the end of that contentious primary, he was able to do that. He was able to figure out how to bring in Sanders supporters, how to bring in Warren supporters, how to bring in people like Pete Buttigieg and others, bring them into a large coalition that needed to defeat Donald Trump.

And I think he's done the same as president. He's figured out, how do I create a broad-based coalition that can push back against the opposition, and he's done that. And these are policy prescriptions, by the way, that might traditionally be viewed as progressive, but he's winning across the board support for them. That stimulus package, that trillion dollar stimulus package that would have been considered a progressive Christmas tree five years ago is 7 in 10 popular across the United States. And it's because the president and his team have branded it appropriately. So I do think that point about meeting the moment that Briahna brings up is an important one.

TANYA RIVERO: And Briahna, Republicans from-- oh, sorry, Briahna, you want to respond? Go ahead.

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: Well, just to that point, when we're talking about bringing the Bernie coalition in and other progressives in, the number one concession that Bernie Sanders asked of Joe Biden when he dropped out of the race was to secure a $15 minimum wage. And when we're talking about the things that the country can get behind, the polarize nation to get behind, what they're actually very unified around is these kind of quote unquote, "progressive policies," like Medicare for all, which 70% of Americans support, nearly 50% of Republican support, and a minimum wage, which overwhelming majorities of Americans support and which Floridians, who voted for Donald Trump in this past election actually passed with 60% of Floridians voting for a $15 minimum wage.

And so that's a really significant issue area that Joe Biden has failed on, leaning on the parliamentarian as an excuse for why it wasn't a part of the must pass COVID bill, when, in fact, the parliamentarian can be fired or overruled as Bush II was able to do for his tax cuts.

TANYA RIVERO: So you're really keeping your eye on the $15 minimum wage, the recent movement the White House has made on that for federal employees. That's not enough, correct? from your perspective.

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: Well, of course, it's something. The point here isn't to undermine the gains that are made, but it's really important for us not to let incremental concessions cloud the extent to which there's still a really long way to go. Why is the conversation framed around the piecemeal gains that are made when we're talking about a policy that overwhelming majorities of even Republicans support.

Why isn't this a no brainer, and why, as a country, do we allow polarizing figures like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to be able to vote down or slight policies without kind of political consequences. And moreover, why is it that we allow Republicans, as a whole, to get away with not backing something like a $15 minimum wage in the Senate, when overwhelmingly, their own constituents, not only support this policy, many of them desperately need this policy to survive.

TANYA RIVERO: And so Briahna, keeping with Republicans, as you know, they are largely trying to paint or painting President Biden as a progressive from minority Leader Mitch McConnell all the way down to moderates like Senator Susan Collins. Do you think that the president should just lean into that portrayal as a political strategy?

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: I think what we've learned is that no matter what a Democrat does, they are going to be called a socialist. What they shouldn't allow is to allow themselves to be chased away from policies that are, again, overwhelmingly popular because they fall for Republican scare tactics. Most Republicans want Joe Biden, want the marijuana to be decriminalized. It was one of Joe Biden's campaign promises. And yet, just in the past month or so, Kamala Harris, when asked about it, said it just wasn't a priority of the campaign. And Jen Psaki has affirmed that even if Chuck Schumer goes ahead and Congress attempts to pass marijuana decriminalization without Joe Biden that there's no guarantee that he would sign it.

So again, why is it that on all of these overwhelmingly popular issues, Republicans apparently, have figured out that they can scare Joe Biden away from doing the thing that the majority of Americans want. And I think that's why we see his approval numbers at this 100-day point significantly lower than Barack Obama's and even George W. Bush's.

TANYA RIVERO: And so Joel, do you want to talk to that, how Democrats should fear or not fear how Republicans are portraying the president and these policies? Because one of their main complaints is that he is taking these steps in a non-bipartisan manner, which is what he had promised.

JOEL PAYNE: So I think a statement that I would agree with is that anything any Democrat is going to do, a Republican is going to call socialist. I mean, that is kind of Republican formulae, political strategy over the last 5 to 10 years that has evolved, and that's just the political moment that we're in. So if I was Joe Biden, I wouldn't be swayed by that. By the way, they tried to do that for 18 months of the campaign, and they couldn't stick it to him. He's been pretty Teflon on that type of stuff.

I do think the broader point here that I would say just in reaction to some of the observations we've heard is that governing is hard, and I don't mean to say that in a condescending way, but this is hard. There's a saying you campaign in poetry and you govern in prose, and it's because you have to make tough decisions. The point about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema is a good one. It is frustrating, but those do exist. You don't have a Democratic majority without those two people. So you have to figure out how do you build a legislative strategy that's inclusive of those folks, that doesn't alienate them, but that does the most good at the time.

And so this is the-- some people call the magic, the frustration, the angst of governing at display here. I think the president, remember, he's only been in office for 100 days, I think we're going to reach a lot of conclusions and make a lot of conclusive statements. But there's a lot of time left in his administration. I know he has limited political capital, a limited time in terms of doing some of his high-leverage priorities, but this might not be the time that he chooses to act on some of those campaign promises, and that's OK too.

We have to trust that President Biden and we have to trust that his team is going to go forward with those things, but they're going to go forward with them in a timely manner that is supportive of their broader agenda. And I know that that can be frustrating to a lot of folks, but again, that's the angst of governing at work.

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: I would argue that it's not just that it's frustrating-- sorry, it's also impractical.

TANYA RIVERO: Sorry, Briahna. We don't have a lot of time, but if you want to make a quick closing thought, would be great.

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: Just that historically, the candidate in the White House loses at least one chamber of Congress during the next midterm election, and Joe Biden has a limited amount of time to act on his campaign promises. He should go ahead and do the things he can do by executive order, like cancel student debt and not drag his feet on those issues because there might not be an opportunity going forward.

TANYA RIVERO: All right. Well, Briahna Joy Gray and Joel Payne, thanks to both of you for joining us. We appreciate it.

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: My pleasure.