Joe Biden made big moves to placate the Left, sail through the Democratic presidential nomination process, and unify the party in the general election.
But now that the election is over and he’s assembling a transition team, the president-elect is giving those in the liberal wing little indication that they’ll receive substantial power in the form of appointments and personnel decisions.
On Thursday, Biden said that he had picked a Treasury secretary, with a major hint that it was bad news for those who hoped that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren might snag the post.
“You’ll find it is someone who I think will be accepted by all elements of the Democratic Party, from progressives to the moderate coalitions,” Biden said.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is reportedly being pushed by allies as a Labor secretary pick, with sources telling CBS News that the two may have more agreement there than in other areas.
But if Biden’s priority is not to rock the boat with his Cabinet and personnel choices, particularly in light of House Democrats unexpectedly losing seats due to what centrists said was resistance to leftist slogans like “defund the police,” that bodes poorly for Sanders’s chances.
So far, many of Biden’s announced staff picks are Obama administration alumni and longtime Biden loyalists rather than people from the wing of the party aligned with Sanders.
And some of those allies are unpalatable, or even unacceptable, to the Left.
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond is slated to run Biden’s White House Office of Public Engagement, a move that Varshini Prakash of the climate group the Sunrise Movement called a “betrayal.”
Richmond “has taken more donations from the fossil fuel industry during his Congressional career than nearly any other Democrat,” Prakash told NPR.
Bruce Reed, who was Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president and an alumnus of the Clinton administration, is a rumored pick to be director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Liberals warn that his budgetary style won’t allow for the expansion of entitlement programs.
“If you’re still going to consider giving a top position to deficit hawks like Bruce Reed, who led the Bowles-Simpson commission to have Democrats work with Republicans to cut Social Security, you have to be expecting pushback from your own party,” Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid told Politico.
Reports that former Chicago Mayor Rham Emanuel is under consideration to be the secretary of transportation ignited a firestorm among criminal justice reform advocates and other activists.
“If you want to root out systemic racism, defend democracy, and build a society that leaves no one behind — all worthy goals mentioned in your victory speech — I can think of few people worse for the job than the man who earned the nickname ‘Mayor 1%’ while in office,” Chicago City Council member Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez wrote in a Jacobin op-ed.
When it became clear that Biden would be the party’s nominee, the former vice president adopted policy positions first championed by leftist former primary opponents Sanders and Warren on reforming bankruptcy law and on making higher education free for those from families who make less than $125,000 per year.
Biden invited Sanders and his allies into a “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force” that crafted most of what eventually became the Democratic Party’s 2020 platform. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a co-chairwoman of the committee that crafted the platform’s section on climate policy. That consensus allowed Biden to sail through the Democratic National Convention without the highly vocal opposition that 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton endured before she officially clinched the nomination.
Sanders said that he would make sure Biden becomes the “most progressive president since FDR.”
But putting ideas on paper is one thing, and putting policies is another. As the saying goes, “personnel is policy,” and the organizations on the Left are taking that to heart.
A conglomerate of 40 organizations on the Left, which included the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, MoveOn, and the Sunrise Movement, created a list of hundreds of appointment recommendations.
Those on the Left are warning the incoming Biden administration that they will continue to exert pressure in order to achieve their policy goals. “Squad” members Ocasio-Cortez, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar appeared at a Sunrise Movement event outside the Democratic National Committee on Thursday.
“We’re not going to stop with a piece of paper,” Ocasio-Cortez said of Biden’s commitment to a $2 trillion climate plan. “We’re going to organize and demand that administration, which I believe is decent and kind and honorable, keep their promise.”