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President Biden, with Vice President Harris, before signing executive actions on Thursday. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times via Getty Images

Joe Biden ran as a unifying centrist destined to be in conflict with activist liberals. Turns out, Biden is governing as an activist liberal constrained by centrists. 

Why it matters: Biden has outlined the most liberal agenda in a generation. But centrist Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), are potential deal-killers on climate change, spending and immigration reform.  

It's the Manchins of the world who could slow, if not stop, efforts to end the filibuster — the single biggest obstacle to enacting a truly liberal agenda.

  • On top of Biden's expansive agenda, add Speaker Pelosi — a progressive who always wants to go big, and is thinking about her legacy — and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who worries about a primary from his left.

Between the lines: The Biden team sees him as an activist president, but with an agenda that commands broad support.

  • A FiveThirtyEight polling analysis finds majority support for 13 of 14 Biden executive actions in Week 1. (Canceling the Keystone pipeline got a plurality.)
  • The country doesn't see it as liberal to fight the pandemic, racism or climate change.

What to watch: Centrist Democratic senators — including Manchin; Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, both of Arizona; and Michael Bennet of Colorado — hold high cards.

  • With the Senate split 50-50, and Vice President Harris breaking ties, Biden needs every Democrat, even if the party uses budget reconciliation or ditches the filibuster rule — both mechanisms for passing bills with a simple majority.
  • And Biden first will try to govern normally, which means 60 votes, and bringing some Republicans on board.
  • Manchin complained to WSAZ-TV in Huntington, W.Va., about an interview Harris had given the station to push Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID rescue plan: "I couldn’t believe it. No one called me. ... That’s not a way of working together."

Between the lines: Matt Bennett — a founder of Third Way, which champions center-left ideas — said the way to think about Biden's agenda is that he isn't "a '90s small government centrist and never has been. ... He wants to do big things, but only things that work."

  • So Biden is pursuing "big ideas on climate, economic opportunity, child poverty, health care," but rejecting "far-left ideas like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal (including banning all fracking), abolish ICE, Defund the Police, universal basic income, etc."

The big picture: It might not happen fast. But many top Democrats believe Biden may eventually embrace eliminating the filibuster, so they can do bigger liberal projects that last much longer. 

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Go deeper

10 Senate Republicans propose compromise on COVID relief package

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of 10 Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), sent a letter to President Biden Sunday requesting a meeting, saying they have developed a counterproposal to the president's COVID-19 relief plan.

The big picture: The proposal includes $160 billion in spending for vaccines, testing and tracing, treatment and medical equipment. The senators said the plan "could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support," if it gained Biden's support.

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.

Fed: Rate hikes are near

The Federal Reserve's headquarters building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is on track to raise its main target interest rate in mid-March, as Chair Jerome Powell pledged to be "humble and nimble" in adapting policy to a fast-changing economy.

Why it matters: Fed leaders are looking to choke off inflation by raising interest rates in the near future, but keeping its options open for how fast and far the effort will go.