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Biden's Campaign Shifts To Winning Over Supporters Of His Former Rivals

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Joe Biden won the Democratic primaries. Now, his campaign is getting to work trying to win over progressives within his own party. NPR's Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Back in January, immigrant activists from a group called United We Dream protested outside the presidential debate in Des Moines. They were singling out Joe Biden. They wanted him to promise that he would stop deportations. Cristina Jimenez leads the group, and she says they had asked all five leading presidential candidates to meet with them.

CRISTINA JIMENEZ: The Biden campaign did not engage in a conversation with us even though we did request a conversation. They declined to meet with our members.

KHALID: But as it became clear that Biden would be the presumptive Democratic nominee, his campaign reached out. Jimenez says they're hoping to set up a conversation soon. Activists with the youth-led climate group, the Sunrise Movement, told NPR a similar story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EVAN WEBER: The Biden campaign really did the least outreach of any of the major front-runners throughout the election cycle.

KHALID: Evan Weber is one of the co-founders of the group and says there have now been more conversations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WEBER: They reached out to learn what they could do to improve their proposals and record on climate crisis, I think also broader interests in engaging young people.

KHALID: Despite those discussions, this week, the Sunrise Movement was one of eight progressive groups to sign an open letter to Biden. In it, they outlined an aggressive list of demands, such as adopting a wealth tax and expanding the Supreme Court. In response, the Biden campaign pointed out that they are engaging progressive leaders and continue to consider adopting additional policies.

Symone Sanders is a Biden adviser.

SYMONE SANDERS: And we also understand that it is critical, that it is going to take the full brunt of the Democratic umbrella, especially our progressive friends, to beat Donald Trump in November.

KHALID: She's been spearheading an effort with a couple of other staffers to individually talk to progressive organizations about both their issue priorities and how to defeat Donald Trump.

SANDERS: Some of those conversations are policy-first conversations, but some of those conversations are also political conversations, then we move to policy conversations later.

KHALID: On the "Late Show With Stephen Colbert," Bernie Sanders said there are a bunch of issues where Biden could find common ground with his supporters, like climate change, immigration and a $15 minimum wage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

BERNIE SANDERS: So, I mean, I think with Joe, he's not going to adopt my platform. I got that, all right? But if he can move in that direction, I think people say, you know what? This is a guy who we should support and will support.

KHALID: Notably in that interview, one idea Sanders did not mention was "Medicare for All."

YVETTE SIMPSON: I do believe of all the issues, that's going to be the hardest with the Biden administration to move on, but I also think it's the one that is the most significant and would mean the most to the progressive movement.

KHALID: That's Yvette Simpson. She's the CEO of Democracy for America. Her group has already put out a statement saying it's 100% committed to doing everything it can to ensure Biden defeats Trump.

SIMPSON: That will be easier to do if he's got some actual issues that we can get people excited about.

KHALID: The day after Sanders dropped out, Biden rolled out a plan to forgive student debt for low-income and middle-class families. And he credited the Vermont senator for laying the groundwork. It was a step, but Julian Brave Noisecat with the group Data for Progress worries that some of his fellow progressives have gotten so used to agitating that they don't recognize that progress.

JULIAN BRAVE NOISECAT: I think that there's been far too little reward for the Joe Bidens of the world sort of coming into our orbit.

KHALID: Right before the Nevada caucuses, Biden agreed to a moratorium on deportations. Jimenez, whom we met at the beginning of this story, said that showed Biden was willing to listen and that makes her think maybe he'll be willing to listen to them on other issues, too.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRECKLE LEGEND'S "CLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.