Mass. Political Influence Grows With A Democrat Headed Back To The White House

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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, nominee for Secretary of Labor, speaks after being nominated by President-elect Joe Biden at The Queen theater Jan. 8, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, nominee for Secretary of Labor, speaks after being nominated by President-elect Joe Biden at The Queen theater Jan. 8, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

As President-elect Joe Biden gets ready to take residency in the White House, a new political landscape looms for Massachusetts politics.

The all-Democratic state congressional delegation has spent four years fighting President Trump, his administration and their congressional supporters.

Kimberly Atkins, a senior opinion writer for the Boston Globe and former WBUR Washington, D.C., correspondent, says members of the state's delegation will have an influence on the incoming Biden administration. She spoke with WBUR's Weekend Edition.

Interview highlights:

On who has what influences:

You have people from the delegation who have been key advisers to President-elect Biden, probably most notably so Sen. Elizabeth Warren... who has really helped to push him on some progressive policies and will probably continue to be someone who has his ear when it comes [to] everything from climate policy to domestic policy spending, how the budget is crafted and what key objectives are [and] everything from criminal justice reform to other measures.

Sen. Ed Markey... is the... co-author of The Green New Deal. He will certainly be in Joe Biden's ear about progressive climate policies. But also on the House side, you have leadership. Katherine Clark is the assistant speaker of the House and is someone who wielded a tremendous amount of influence and power, certainly in the impeachment proceeding and that impeachment vote, as well as Jim McGovern, who's the head of the Rules Committee, who crafts legislation and gets it to the floor in a way that will be crucial when Joe Biden is pushing forward his legislative priorities.

On the delegation's different priorities and strategies for how to work with the Biden administration, and whether this could make the Massachusetts delegation have more conflicts within itself.

The delegation is not monolithic at all. The more moderate members of the delegation are the ones who backed Joe Biden early--people like Congressman Stephen Lynch and Congressman Seth Moulton, once he himself ended his presidential bid. So you have those folks who certainly are much more in line with Joe Biden. Then you have a lot of progressive folks, including Ayanna Pressley, who will be pushing a much more progressive agenda.

I think so far what we've seen — in my time covering this delegation for several years — is that while their priorities are different, they seem to... work trying to pick and choose their initiatives that they put forward and not really have tension with one another. They respect the fact that they represent different districts, that they come from different places, that they have different ideas and views. And you haven't seen the kind of tension that you can see in the broader House or in the broader Senate when it comes to those divisions.

On the tension between pushing to enact as much legislation as quickly as possible on the Democratic priorities or reach more compromise with Republicans:

You will continue to see what we saw in the last Congress... members of the House who are willing to act quickly and pass legislation and get it over to the Senate. You have members of Congress like Congresswoman Pressley, who pushed a number of bills on everything from ending the death penalty to criminal justice reform. And you saw those bills being offered, being passed, being tacked onto bigger pieces of legislation and sending it to the Senate where it sat on Mitch McConnell's desk.

So now on the Senate side, there will be more pressure there, certainly to try to take up more of these measures that pass very quickly out of the House. We'll just have to see how much influence Sens. Warren and Markey have in getting... more of those pieces of legislation to the floor.

On Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as the Secretary of Labor:

When you have a cabinet member who is from Boston, somebody who is of Boston and who knows Boston very well, that will serve the city very well when it comes to policies that will help it. And it's crucial right now. I mean, the issue of labor is a crucial one coming out of this pandemic, coming out of the economic recession that it caused …. Marty Walsh is no stranger here. He worked with the Obama administration, was frequently here for events at the White House in that administration. He has that connection. He has that understanding. And he has been sort of in Washington's ear with Boston's issues for quite some time now. So I think you'll see that continue if he is confirmed.

On the Massachusetts contingent of Biden's administration, including Jen O'Malley Dillon, the Franklin native who is Biden's campaign manager and is going to be Biden's deputy chief of staff:

I always find it incredible how Massachusetts, for such a small state, wields such enormous influence in Washington...So that isn't a new thing. One of President Trump's early allies in the White House was John Kelly, who was also a Boston native. And consider the number of people from Massachusetts who ran for president. So I think that influence is normal. Frankly, it would be odd to not have people from the Bay State in the White House in key legislative posts because that's where they've always been. Dillon is someone who is a veteran. She knows the White House very well. She understands Washington very well. And so if Boston is going to have an ally, she's a very smart one for them to have.

 On how the new political landscape in Washington will affect Gov. Charlie Baker:

A lot of times Gov. Baker is compared to Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, as Republicans who are not Trump voters who speak out against him. But you do not see Gov. Baker speaking out against President Trump. [Baker]...seemed to be [much happier] to pretend that Trump didn't exist, but will speak out against him on occasion.

Right now the Republican Party doesn't have a big space for moderate Republicans. You see the people who have coalesced behind Trump--it really is the party of Trump. And you have a few outsiders who oppose Trump who speak out. But for the most part, particularly here in Washington, those folks don't have very long of a political life and they haven't over the last four years. And perhaps that's one reason that Gov. Baker tends to keep his head down in that sense. I mean, Gov. Baker is at odds with the state's own GOP. I think it would be certainly easier for him to work with President-elect Biden than it was with President Trump on bigger issues.

This segment aired on January 17, 2021.


Sharon Brody News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.


Paul Connearney Weekend Managing Editor
Paul Connearney is the Weekend Managing Editor and Weekday Senior Writer who oversees WBUR's local news operations on weekends and contributes to WBUR's All Things Considered during the week.



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