Ady Barkan endorses Joe Biden for president

By Katie Glueck

Ady Barkan, the prominent liberal activist and advocate for “Medicare for All,” is endorsing Joe Biden for president, in a sign that some progressives who opposed Biden in the Democratic primary race are increasingly willing to actively support him against President Donald Trump.

In the primary campaign, Barkan endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and then Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. His endorsement now of Biden comes as the former vice president, keenly aware of the need to energize and turn out younger and more liberal voters who are unenthusiastic about his candidacy, works to improve his standing with them.

“Even though he wasn’t our first choice, I don’t think that progressives and democratic socialists should sit out the election, or vote third party, and I wanted to make that clear,” Barkan, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and can now speak only through a computerized voice using eye gaze technology, said in an email. He will announce his endorsement Wednesday.

Biden, who opposes Medicare for All and was one of the more centrist candidates in the primary contest, declined to sit down with Barkan then, the activist said publicly at the time. But the two recently engaged in a wide-ranging and sometimes deeply personal discussion over Zoom about issues including health care, police reform and Biden’s own extensive experience with illness and grief.

The conversation was the latest and final installment in Barkan’s series of interviews with candidates created through Be a Hero, the political action committee associated with Barkan.

“I think that the vice president and his staff understand the need to unify the party, and I think that is why they agreed to the conversation,” Barkan emailed. “The conversation reinforced my preexisting understanding of Joe Biden. He is an intelligent, compassionate man who will be a vast improvement over Donald Trump.”

In a statement announcing his endorsement, he directly appeals to those who may have felt as he did when his preferred candidates dropped out: “devastated.”

“He and I have meaningfully different perspectives on the world; not only on what ails it, but on what we must do to address those maladies,” the statement reads. “And yet despite the literal and figurative distances between us, I know that the vice president heard what I was saying. He listened, he understood, and he promised to continue doing both after he is elected.”

Asked about the most important steps Biden could take to energize young progressive voters, Barkan replied that the presumptive nominee’s biggest opportunity “to excite young progressive voters is by selecting Elizabeth Warren to be his vice president.”

According to a transcript of the conversation between Biden and Barkan, the two disagreed over Medicare for All and Biden defended the option of private insurance. But he also outlined his own plans for health care, nodded at more ideas to come and raised proposals like “providing for the option to have home care paid for and elder care paid for, not as part of Medicare, as just a basic right.”

In an effort to demonstrate a commitment to investing in health care, Biden also said at one point, “What I’m proposing is something that costs an excess of a trillion dollars and we’re going to get it done.”

Asked for details on the proposal Biden was referring to, a campaign official said that his health care plan, when combined with “related forthcoming proposals,” would amount to more than $1 trillion over 10 years. Biden has already called to build on the Affordable Care Act and add a public option.

“I’m eager to get to you and your folks the remainder of what I call the entire health initiative,” Biden told Barkan. “That goes beyond ‘Obamacare’ with a public option or Medicare for All, goes beyond that in terms of a whole new care network across the board, of giving people more flexibility, allowing people to not have to make choices between their job and taking care of a parent who’s dying.”

The campaign declined to comment further.

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