The political impasse among Democrats over President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social welfare and climate change bill has convinced liberals that the only way to advance their agenda is by purging moderates and taking over the party.
Although some on the far left have long held this view, many say the intransigence of moderate Democrats on Mr. Biden’s spending agenda has hardened their resolve.
“A lot of activists and donors who never thought about primaries are now understanding that it really matters whether we have a corporate-aligned Democrat or a bold progressive in these seats,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Mr. Green’s committee and other groups, which have raised millions of dollars to bankroll liberal candidates at the state and federal levels, see the 2022 midterm elections as an opportunity to build a more ideologically uniform Democratic Party.
Toward that end, they think their strongest argument yet is in Mr. Biden’s stalled $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net.
The massive bill includes a trove of long-sought liberal priorities, including free community college, expanded Medicare and ambitious regulations to arrest climate change. More important, it has the support of Mr. Biden, Democratic leadership and a majority of the party’s lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“This is not just some crazy progressive wish list that nobody else agrees with,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the 98-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. “This is President Joe Biden’s agenda. This is the agenda that Democrats in the House, the Senate and the White House were elected on.”
Establishment support has long been missing from the liberal agenda, including the battle for Medicare for All. Although the universal health care proposal garnered support from a large contingent of Democrats, the issue never broke out of the left-wing silo.
During his campaign for the presidential nomination last year, Mr. Biden ran as an avowed opponent of the plan, much to the chagrin of his leading challenger, far-left icon Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
The shifting paradigm has liberals confident that they have the upper hand. Many are already planning to use support for Mr. Biden’s $3.5 trillion as a litmus test in Democratic primaries next year and in 2024.
“We have to insist that the will of the 96% of Democrats in the House and Senate, the leadership of the president and the majority of the American people is not ignored for the misplaced priorities of 4% of our colleagues that are not yet on board,” Ms. Jayapal said.
Republicans, who see a favorable political environment in the midterms, say the Democratic infighting boosts their push to retake control of Congress.
They say that ousting moderates from marginal seats and replacing them with liberals will make a Republican sweep easier in the general election. Democrats who can stave off challenges from the left will likely deplete their campaign war chests in the process and be forced to take positions well out of the political mainstream.
Mike Berg, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the outcome is inevitable given the leftward shift of the national Democratic Party.
“Today’s Democrat Party is run by far-left socialists, and this is just the latest evidence of that reality,” he said.
Liberals’ targets in the primaries are moderate House and Senate Democrats who are unwilling to acquiesce to the spending plan. Topping that list are Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The two moderates are crucial to passing the package within the Senate through a special process Democrats are using to force the bill through the chamber. The process, known as budget reconciliation, allows some spending and tax measures to avoid the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes.
The Senate is evenly split between the parties, so the reconciliation package needs the vote of every Democrat. Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema are the holdouts. They are calling for the spending plan to be trimmed and means-tested.
Although neither lawmaker is up for reelection until 2024, liberals have begun mobilizing. In Arizona, a political advocacy group funded by the left-wing Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros has launched a super PAC to lay the groundwork for a primary challenge to Ms. Sinema.
“Sen. Sinema is blocking Biden’s agenda and standing in the way of popular policies, such as lowering prescription drug costs, that are supported by broad, bipartisan majorities of Arizonans,” said a spokesperson for the Primary Sinema PAC. “She has badly miscalculated the politics here, and if she continues her obstruction, she’s going to be met with a credible primary challenge.”
One of the groups behind the PAC, Living United for Change in Arizona, recorded themselves berating Ms. Sinema in a women’s restroom over her opposition to the spending package. Although Mr. Biden denounced the tactic, he dismissed it as part of the “political process.”
Moderate House Democrats who are reluctant to back the $3.5 trillion package are similarly in the crosshairs of liberals, such as Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. Both represent districts that Mr. Biden carried comfortably last year and are prime targets for a primary challenge from the left.
“The irony behind the several corporate-aligned obstructionists in the House that almost tanked the Biden agenda is that most of them come from very blue districts where we won by 12, 18, even 40 points,” Mr. Green said.