If Pres. Joe Biden loses in 2024 to former Pres. Donald Trump or any other Republican, Democrats will largely blame progressives for not showing up at the polls. And a lot of progressives will blame Biden and the Democratic Party for failing to show up for them during Biden’s first term.
According to at least one poll, a sizable number of registered Democrats are less than thrilled about a second Biden term. And not just because he’s an octogenarian.
To progressives, Biden’s political wins often don’t go far enough or come at the expense of progressive advancement – backsliding on progressive promises and sowing mistrust among the left wing of the Democratic Party.
Despite this, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which runs the party, is in lockstep with Biden. Although it’s charged with being neutral in the presidential race, the DNC is treating Biden as the nominee.
Some observers worry that running the Democratic Party undemocratically threatens to put a Republican in the White House in 2025. Infuriated and mystified, some progressives don’t understand why the DNC is taking what they see as a self-destructive approach.
But a private, previously unreported exchange between the DNC chair and an outspoken progressive member during a DNC meeting last year may shed light on why.
Liano Sharon is a DNC delegate from Michigan and a progressive leader in his state party. He has written extensively about some of the problems plaguing the Democratic party, and is a stickler for following the rules governing the DNC. He has been a vocal opponent of what he calls overly complicated processes that bar younger and more progressive members from joining the Democratic Party.
Back in 2022, Sharon was attending one of the DNC’s bi-annual meetings, where DNC Chair Jaime Harrison was addressing the committee’s Poverty Council. The meeting of 30 or so people was held, according to Sharon, in a smaller conference room where the two got into a heated exchange.
Sharon said he couldn’t recall whether it occurred during the DNC’s winter meeting in March or the summer meeting in September of last year. He does, however, remember that he pushed back while Harrison was “making a big speech about how wonderful Biden was.”
But that wasn’t the part that would leave Sharon flabbergasted.
Harrison had only become DNC chair the year before, 2021. He had risen to national prominence in his failed 2020 Senate race against incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Previously, he was chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
But Harrison also spent nearly a decade working as a lobbyist for the Podesta Group, run by ultimate Democratic insider John Podesta, a veteran of the Obama/Biden White House. And when Harrison was elected DNC chair in 2021, it was with Biden’s backing.
At the 2022 DNC meeting, as Harrison went on about Biden, Sharon says that he became infuriated. Unable to contain himself any longer, Sharon interjected, cutting off Harrison as he was addressing the crowd.
Referring to Biden, Sharon says, “I raised the objection that, hey, look, you know, he's not even a capitalist. He's a wealthist. Look what he did with student loans.” But Harrison wasn’t having it. “He just rolled over me because, I mean, he had the microphone and everything.”
Sharon says that a delegate who witnessed the intense back and forth suggested afterwards that Sharon apologize. Taking the advice, Sharon and the other delegate sought out Harrison among the hundreds of people in attendance at the DNC meeting.
According to Sharon, he found Harrison in another conference room, an empty one this time. He apologized to Harrison, but it was the response Sharon got that shocked him. Harrison, Sharon says, “told me specifically that his job is to protect the president.”
Sharon was shaken, he says, because “That is not the job of the DNC chair.”
In fact, the job of the national chair, according to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws, is to carry out the policies and programs of the DNC and the national convention and to “exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns.” In other words, it’s not the job of the DNC chair to do the president’s bidding nor decide unilaterally that the incumbent president will be the party’s automatic nominee.
On the DNC website, explanations of its mission don’t include defending Biden. Instead, the site says the DNC “pledge[s] to work together to move this country forward, even when we disagree” and talks about initiatives to engage with Black women and Latinas, to “mobilize” young voters and empower Democratic constituency groups “as key decision makers within our party.”
But in their private discussion last year, according to Sharon, Harrison stuck to his guns. “He said, ‘Look, you know, my job is to defend the president.’ I'm like, ‘No, your job is not to defend the president. Your job is to make sure that the party does well, not the president. The president is not the party.’”
Instead of replying, Sharon says, Harrison hurried off to his next meeting.
TYT called Harrison to get a response to Sharon’s claims, but Harrison declined to hear any questions and referred them all to DNC Deputy Communications Director Daniel Wessel. Wessel did not respond to emailed media inquiries from TYT.
Harrison seems then to have blocked TYT’s phone and text communications, and did not respond to a follow-up email. The White House also did not respond to TYT’s questions or request for comment.
But even without Harrison’s acknowledgment of his alleged comments, he has hinted as much publicly.
“We as a party take our guidance from the White House and the Biden-Harris administration,” Harrison told Jewish Insider in 2021, referring to US-Israel relations.
“[W]e’re a big-tent party where sometimes there are differences on particular issues,” Harrison said. “But in terms of where we go as a party, as a party organization, we will be where the president is.”
If Harrison sees running the DNC chair as synonymous with protecting the president, it would explain why the tension between the DNC’s progressives and mainstream Democrats largely mirrors the tensions between progressive grassroots voters and the Biden administration.
It also suggests that there’s no real mechanism to hold Biden accountable to the party. Democratic fundraising, recruiting, membership, and more ultimately fall under terms set by the White House.
Moreover, it bolsters claims that efforts to advance progressive initiatives and increase progressive membership are intentionally being quashed by DNC leadership. And if Sharon’s account is accurate, it’s all being done at Biden’s behest.
As TYT previously reported, Our Revolution Board Chair and DNC Superdelegate Larry Cohen called out Biden for putting the brakes on progressive resolutions before they have a chance to be heard in committee. And as NBC reported, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon liaises with the DNC to make key decisions on everything from delegate selection to appointments on key DNC standing committees like Resolutions and Rules and Bylaws.
It’s a “vicious circle,” according to Cohen, who says that members of the Resolutions Committee were “handpicked by the White House with the DNC staff, not elected in any normal sense of the word 'elected.'” The Resolutions Committee ultimately decides whether or not to advance proposed resolutions for a vote. If a resolution fails to get seconded for discussion, it’s likely that the White House opposes it.
For Sharon, Harrison’s alleged admission makes clear how much influence the White House has over the way the DNC operates.
“[T]he [DNC] chair makes the appointments, right? Okay. The chair of the DNC [is] effectively saying that he does whatever Biden tells him to do,” said Sharon.
Sharon says none of the DNC delegates are elected by the grassroots; they are elected by their state parties or gain their position on the DNC by being elected to a different committee entirely.
“There's always a layer of insulation between the grassroots and the DNC. There are several layers and these layers work like a filter,” Sharon said. “Once you have an established group running an organization that's willing to bend, to break, and amend, in fact, all the rules in order to give themselves more power because of their positions – once you've got a group of people in there like that, they use that system as a filter to keep out people that don't agree with them.”
Recounting his own election to the DNC as a delegate, Sharon said he and his team first had to organize people to run in congressional districts to become part of Michigan’s State Central Committee. Once elected, those same people would be able to vote for delegates to the national committee.
That’s a “mild example” of how purposely complicated processes keep others from joining the Democratic Party and ultimately stifle progressive agendas, Sharon says. “Every layer of control like that is a filter against anybody changing anything.”
Offering a solution, Sharon continued, “We need to have the DNC delegates elected by the grassroots just like we have senators elected by the grassroots. That we are the Democratic party, we oughtn’t be this far behind on democracy.”
Reportedly, Harrison hasn’t always been on board with ceding control. The early days of his term saw news stories suggesting he had his own issues with the Biden White House and its restrictive view of his role as chair.
Months before the 2022 midterms, NBC reported that Harrison had considered an early exit from his post as DNC chair due to tensions with the White House. As NBC noted, the limits of Harrison’s influence were a point of agitation for him. The White House was frustrated, even during the pandemic, that Harrison was not traveling more outside of his home state of South Carolina or visiting DNC headquarters.
Although NBC cites unnamed DNC insiders and White House officials as sources, Harrison disputed claims that he wanted out. Harrison tweeted, “There is a lot of unnamed bullshit in politics, but no one can ever say that I don’t work my ass off for what I believe in.”
Harrison touted his fundraising record and hit the “unnamed sources,” saying, “if you expect me to go away or roll into a ball and whimper… you picked the wrong one. The focus is upending the party of fraud, fear and fascism. You have the mission, now get with the program!” He followed that with a gif of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saying “Not Today.”
What changed? NBC reported that Harrison’s ambition to replace Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) once he retires likely had Harrison walking a tightrope between his own agenda and that of the White House and could be the reason he and the president are now in lockstep.
If Harrison really is doing Biden's bidding, that could include squelching dissident voices. For instance, as chair Harrison has the power to handpick 75 at-large DNC delegates. If Biden's controlling those picks, that gives him influence over who sits on standing committees like the Resolutions and Rules & Bylaws committees, which resolutions see the light of day, and which congressional candidates actually get the DNC’s support.
That kind of dynamic makes meaningful progressive initiatives nearly impossible, according to a state party member focused on Democratic Party reform who spoke with TYT on background.
“[T]he bottom line is the only way that you can get things done is to be on a committee, and to be on a committee you have to get handpicked by, you know, whoever the President's person is or the chairperson,” said the state party member. “[T]his issue right here is the most significant issue with the problem of the Democratic Party, in terms of structure. It’s nearly impossible to get anything done that is not top-down.”
Sharon has additional concerns about Biden’s alleged puppeteering. He’s worried that it’s already showing up at the polls.
“The president is sending the party down a very, very dangerous path,” said Sharon. “People aren't voting for us because we have great ideas. They're voting for us because we're not fucking nuts. Eventually, the Republicans are going to figure that out, or there's going to be another party that's going to take their place or something like that, that's to the right.”
According to 2020 exit polling by Morning Consult, at least 44% of voters reported that their votes were cast against Trump, rather than for Biden. And during the 2022 midterm elections, Sharon says voters used the same reasoning. Democratic candidates who were up against a Trumpian opponent gained a four to seven-point advantage, according to Sharon’s DNC July 2023 Report.
Sharon asserts that the DNC’s suppression of progressive influence in the party will ultimately hinder the Democratic Party from maintaining and, in the case of the House, regaining control.
“Suppose that the [Republican] nominee [in 2024] isn't somebody that’s as nuts as Trump. [...] Without the Trumpian opponents, without the four to seven percent - we had a red wave,” said Sharon, referring to the 2022 midterms. “We did not win in 2020 and we did not win in 2022. In 2022, they [Republicans] lost.”
Part of the solution, according to Sharon and others, comes down to growing progressive membership within the DNC and state parties – an uphill battle due to a general distrust of the Democratic party among potential members.
Back in 2018, Sharon helped organize a recruitment drive that doubled the Michigan Democratic Party’s (MDP) membership from 10,000 to nearly 20,000 members. That figure, he says, has now dwindled down to 8000 because MDP is “not interested in recruitment or retention, because the more recruitment or retention that they have, the harder it is for them to control the party.” MDP did not respond to TYT’s request to address Sharon’s claim.
Sharon says the exodus from the MDP comes down to four things: undemocratic rules and rule-breaking, an institutional culture of disrespect for new members, lack of progress on progressive issues, and what Sharon calls “[t]he lack of even the prospect of progress on progressive priorities evident from the deliberate marginalization of all proposals that meet the scale of the problem.”
Cohen says that progressives won’t get a real, “important opportunity” until the 2028 national convention to change the rules and democratize the delegate selection process. That scenario, of course, requires more progressives joining state Democratic parties by then.
The DNC's next bi-annual meeting will be held October 5-7.
TYT Washington Correspondent Candice Cole was previously a correspondent and senior White House producer for the Black News Channel and has worked at a number of local news outlets. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.