WASHINGTON — Joe Biden is striking a populist tone but has stopped short of embracing some of the ambitious plans championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as she vies to be his vice presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket.
Appearing on CNBC on Friday, Biden was asked about Warren’s push to halt big mergers during the coronavirus pandemic and said he’s “not going to make a blanket judgment on that right now.”
“Well, I think that what we should do is we should take hard looks at it — real hard looks — and decide whether or not it’s likely to increase competition or reduce competition,” he said. He added that he’d ask antitrust officials to scrutinize whether or not the mergers in question “increase the prospect of growth, increase the prospect of competition, increase the prospect of employment, or not.”
Asked if he favors Warren’s proposed breakup of Amazon, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee’s response mirrored her disenchantment with the company without endorsing her policy.
“I think Amazon should start paying their taxes,” he said. “Number two, I think that companies should be in a position where they start paying their employees a decent wage and protect their employees.”
Biden’s remarks reveal an attempt to tap into rising economic anxieties with populist language that is often associated with Warren and other progressives. But they also demonstrate the tension between his comparably moderate tendencies and the aggressive plans Warren became known for as his Democratic presidential rival. Warren is one of the rumored contenders to be his running mate, a position she has said she’d accept if offered.
A person close to Warren said she’s grateful that Biden has adopted her bankruptcy plan and that he has been listening to — and supportive of — many of her ideas.
One of the big questions facing Biden is whether he will pick a running mate who’s already aligned with him on ideology or a progressive figure to compensate for his more cautious instincts as he works to unite the Democratic Party ahead of the Nov. 3 election against President Donald Trump.
“I come from a corporate capital of the world, Delaware. And I’m not anti-corporate,” Biden said. But he argued that corporations using most of their earnings on share buybacks and rewarding stockholders — rather than paying their workers well — is “not the capitalist system.”
Biden has promised to pick a woman to be his vice president but has been mum about naming or confirming who he’s considering. Interviewed Thursday night on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Biden said he’s looking for someone “who can complement or make up for” his shortcomings and who “feels completely comfortable disagreeing” but will ultimately be aligned with him.
Biden said he “will not support ‘Medicare for All’” and opposes “forgiving debt loan for every single solitary person no matter where you went to school,” while laying out a more moderate vision than Warren on health care, education policy and tax policy.
“Nobody making under $400,000 would have their taxes raised. Period. Bingo,” he told CNBC.
Warren allies argue that the former Harvard Law School professor’s deep understanding of economic policy makes her an ideal governing partner for Biden during the coronavirus economic catastrophe and that her populist credentials can help energize progressive voters who are not yet sold on him.
Others want Biden to pick a more middle-of-the-road running mate to solidify his support among moderate and suburban voters who aren’t looking for major economic disruption.
Women who are getting buzz include Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. — two fellow rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination — as well as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Stacey Abrams and Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.
Brian Riedl, an economist at the conservative Manhattan Institute and former adviser to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Biden’s remarks sound like an attempt to maintain some distance with progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Warren.
“Biden is rejecting the aggressive economic populism of Sanders and Warren and instead focusing on providing benefits and looking safe for the professional, upper-middle-class base that Democrats increasingly rely on,” he said. “He is pushing corporations and the rich as more of a traditional Democrat, while avoiding the wealth taxes or extreme regulatory actions.”