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The Unusual Group Trying to Turn Biden into FDR

In a city of ambitious influencers, a shadow cabinet hopes it can summon a new New Deal.

One recent Wednesday evening, a small of group of concerned citizens gathered on a Zoom call to talk about how to get the attention of the president.

At 6 p.m., two rows of elderly faces appeared on screen, staring into the camera: June Hopkins, Henry Scott Wallace, Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall and James Roosevelt Jr. If their names sound vaguely familiar it’s because their relatives—Harry Hopkins, Henry Wallace, Frances Perkins and Franklin Delano Roosevelt—formed the nucleus of one of the most famous and influential Oval Office rosters in American history. Ninety years later, these descendants of the FDR administration have reconstituted his Cabinet. And they have played their roles with a conscientious sense of purpose. This is a meeting, not happy hour. No one drinks, and they begin on time.

“It looks like Harold is having connection issues,” said Stephen Seufert, a volunteer staffer for the group. When he finally turned up, Ickes was in the woods, on vacation someplace remote. The internet was giving him trouble, and he couldn’t get into the Zoom. Seufert tried to troubleshoot the problem from afar, but after a few minutes, they let him be. Ickes is 81 and, as the son of Roosevelt’s interior secretary, is the closest to the actual FDR Cabinet.

“He’s not the most frequent attendant,” said Wallace.

Seufert, one of several self-identified “non-descendants” assisting the group, chimed in helpfully: “If we had better infrastructure, maybe Harold would be here right now.”

In a city of interest groups, “the descendants,” as they refer to themselves in frequent press releases and op-eds, are among the more unusual. They are determined to polish the legacy of America’s 32nd president by pushing the 46th to embrace a legislative agenda as transformational as the New Deal. They want Joe Biden to embrace the idea of an “activist” government. They want him to eliminate the filibuster. They spend hours parsing his words for echoes of the stirring language that helped defeat the Great Depression. And they devote their Wednesday night Zoom meetings, where they have met nearly every week since last June, to plotting ways to keep the comparisons to FDR alive, as if repetition might somehow will Biden’s latent progressivism to life.