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Challenges Biden Might Face In Unifying Americans

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One dilemma facing Joe Biden here at home is keeping his coalition together. A broad group of voters helped him win the election, from former Republicans to young progressives in cities, suburbs, brown, Black and white. Getting them all on the same page going forward will be tough, as NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) We are standing for our futures.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: For the other week outside the Democratic headquarters in Washington, D.C., activists demanded the president-elect keep his campaign promises on climate change. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to Biden's $2 trillion green infrastructure plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: We're not going to forget about that agreement for the sake of an election, are we? No. What we're going to do is that we're going to organize and demand.

KHALID: Progressive activists insist Biden would not have won states like Arizona or Georgia without their support. And even though Biden won large numbers of white voters and seniors, Ana Maria Archila with the Center for Popular Democracy says it's also worth remembering that Biden won the vast majority of young people and communities of color.

ANA MARIA ARCHILA: People who turned out and who, despite their lifetime of experience, not having their lives fundamentally improved - the party needs to be able to demonstrate that they're willing to fight for them.

KHALID: But there are other Biden backers - like John Farner, a lifelong Republican and an alum of George W. Bush's administration - who want Biden to focus on bringing together both sides of the aisle.

JOHN FARNER: I think the president-elect needs to continue governing like he ran his campaign, and that is one of unifying America.

KHALID: But the question is, how can Biden unify America if his party remains divided? Even though Biden won the presidency, Democrats lost seats in the House, and Republicans held onto key seats in the Senate. Almost immediately, some Democrats started pointing fingers, blaming socialist rhetoric or slogans like defund the police. Here's Ana Maria Archila again.

ARCHILA: We are in the middle of a struggle for what the Democratic Party should be about.

KHALID: But despite that public hand-wringing, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg says one consequence of the erosion of Democratic support in Congress is that most Democrats on the Hill understand if they want anything done legislatively, they'll have to stick together.

STAN GREENBERG: They know that they're going to have to unite if they're going to have an economic relief package, if they're going to expand health care. So I'm just not sure that in the first two years that Democrats will end up being as divided as we might think. Had they had the landslide that we thought they were going to have, it might be different.

KHALID: Lanae Erickson with the center-left think tank Third Way says during the campaign, Biden's coalition was united against Donald Trump. But once he is no longer in the picture, will the coalition splinter? Well, Erickson says if these were normal times with no public health crisis and Biden was walking into the White House...

LANAE ERICKSON: There would be a lot of fights about what priority No. 1, 2 and 3 should be. But at this point, priority No. 1, 2 and 3 for every Democrat is addressing the pandemic.

KHALID: But once the pandemic subsides, Biden might face a lot of different voices clamoring for his attention because there are competing claims about who put him over the top.

ERICKSON: I mean, I think every time someone wins, everyone takes credit. And based on the vote margins, you could say any group was the decisive group in the election.

KHALID: One suggestion Erickson has to keep the coalition together - Biden could roll out piecemeal steps on issues the party broadly agrees on, like climate change. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.