Biden Moves to Recapture the Centrist Identity That Has Long Defined Him

“The country wants common sense; they don’t want extremism and I think the president gets that,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “And the country wants fiscal responsibility and the president, in taking on the deficit, understands that.”

Some on the left end of his party rejected the idea that these goals were in conflict. Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington state and chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said worthy policy goals can be pursued in fiscally responsible ways.

“If a progressive policy happens to lower the budget, we think that is a fine thing,” she said. “But we do believe in lowering drug prices and raising taxes on the wealthy as good ends unto themselves because they further equality and help people afford their lives — and we know that the president believes that too because these things have been part of his Build Back Better and tax reform agenda for the past two years.”

But some Democrats have been watching Mr. Biden’s actions lately with trepidation. His decision to reverse himself and agree to sign Republican-led legislation overturning a new law passed by the City Council in Washington reducing penalties for carjackings and other crimes angered Democrats who voted against the bill in the House. At the very least, they argued, he should have let them know he would take that position before they took what could be a politically damaging vote.

Some liberals were similarly disheartened by the news that the Department of Homeland Security might reinstate family detention at the border, seeing that as a betrayal of the president’s vow to enact more humane immigration policies out of what they consider political expediency. Officials are exploring what would need to be done to restart temporary family detention by May 11, although no final decision has been made.

The budget plan released on Thursday, of course, will never be enacted as written with Republicans in charge of the House. Instead, it is only a starting point in negotiations with Republicans and a “messaging document,” in Washington parlance, to showcase what the president wants the public to see as his priorities.

White House officials argued that Mr. McCarthy’s Republicans have talked a lot about cutting the deficit but have yet to produce a plan for how they would do it without raising taxes or cutting Social Security, Medicare or military spending, as they have vowed.


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