Monday, January 24

Joe Biden’s Staff Nominations Are Early Proof of Relationship with Progressives | Biden Administration

Joe Biden has long had a roller-coaster relationship with progressive organizations and the left wing of the Democratic Party and there are signs that the relationship is beginning to unravel again now that his election win over Donald Trump is receding in the rearview mirror.

When Biden entered the field of the Democratic primary, progressive groups were quick to criticize the former vice president for supporting the Iraq war and for previously considering cuts to social security. Organizations view Biden as an establishment Democrat who would not challenge the status quo that had created the conditions for Trump’s rise.

All that changed in April, when Biden became the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate. Following the lead of progressive leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, these same groups urged their supporters to back Biden, warning that another four years of Trump’s presidency would cause lasting damage to the country and the planet.

Now, with Trump defeated, the president-elect’s relationship with progressive organizations is entering a new phase, and the groups are closely scrutinizing the president-elect’s selections for cabinet positions and senior staff for clues about his agenda.

So far, Biden has largely managed to avoid the least desirable choices in the eyes of progressives, but there are already some early signs of tension.

That tension was on display late last month when NBC News’ Lester Holt asked Biden if prominent progressives like Sanders or Warren could join his administration. “We already have significant representation among progressives in our administration, but there’s really nothing off the table,” Biden responded.

That answer upset many progressives, who were quick to disagree with Biden’s assessment. Justice Democrats, the group that recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to run for Congress, and the climate group Sunrise Movement responded in a joint statement, saying: “While some of Joe Biden’s appointments encourage us and we are greatly relieved Measured by who has not elected, we do not agree that progressives already have meaningful representation in the administration as it is.

The ties of Cedric Richmond, whom Biden selected to head the Office of Public Participation, with the fossil fuel industry have raised concerns on the left.
The ties of Cedric Richmond, whom Biden selected to head the Office of Public Participation, with the fossil fuel industry have raised concerns on the left. Photograph: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, said the group was pleased with some of the most recent announcements from Biden’s staff, namely the appointment of Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey to the council of economic advisers.

But Shahid added: “The recruiting process is the beginning of a broader fight for the soul of the Biden presidency, and it will not end here, but it is a starting point.”

Progressive climate groups have expressed specific concern over the appointment of top officials linked to the oil and gas industry, such as Congressman Cedric Richmond, who will serve as director of the White House Office of Public Participation. Climate activists held a rally outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters last month to protest some of Biden’s early hires.

“I’m a little concerned that so far I’m picking out a lot of vestiges of the Obama era,” said RL Miller, Climate Hawks Vote chairman and newly elected DNC delegate.

Miller argued that Biden’s selection of several former Obama administration officials was particularly troubling when it came to climate policy because the science on climate change has become much more alarming since 2009, when Obama took office.

“I’m a survivor of the Woolsey fire,” Miller said, referring to the 2018 wildfire that killed three people and forced the evacuation of nearly 300,000 Californians. “This is personal to me now.”

Miller and Shahid said the nomination of Congresswoman Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior would be a substantial step toward developing a positive relationship between progressive groups and the Biden administration.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, noted that Haaland would be a “historic choice” as the first Native American to lead the interior department. “I can’t think of anyone more qualified for a job dealing with public lands and climate change and also with relations with tribal nations,” Green said. “Who else could be better?”

But Shahid stressed that Haaland’s nomination alone would not be enough to secure approval from progressives in Biden’s cabinet. “In my opinion, having a single cabinet appointment for a member of the progressive caucus would not be a great starting point,” Shahid said.

Green added that he was encouraged by the selection of Ron Klain as Biden’s chief of staff and expressed hope that more progressives will be added to the administration as the president-elect continues to build his team.

“There are many more spaces to fill and therefore many more points to put on the board from a progressive perspective,” Green said.

Neera Tanden, Biden's choice to head the Office of Management and Budget.
Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget. Photograph: Chandan Khanna / AFP / Getty Images

The biggest success of Biden’s transition progressives so far may be their ability to communicate who should not be selected for key positions. Although several progressives have said they are not necessarily thrilled with some of Biden’s hires, many of them acknowledge that the president-elect has largely managed to avoid the worst options in their view.

When Neera Tanden was announced as Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget last week, some close allies of Sanders he complained about his earlier comments about progressives. But Tanden’s nomination was generally greeted with a sigh of relief on the left, given the other candidates Biden was considering, like Bruce Reed.

While Reed has been criticized For progressives as a deficit hawk, Tanden has emphasized the need for a robust government response to help Americans who are suffering financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Green said of Tanden: “If that represents the center of the party, the progressives are winning because that’s what we were saying eight, 10 years ago and we felt like very lonely voices, and now apparently that’s mainstream, so let’s take the victory. “

Pointing to Biden’s ambitious campaign platform, Green argued that it may be centrists, rather than progressives, who will cause problems in terms of party unity.

“I hope corporate Democrats are the ones who violate Democratic unity by trying to undermine Biden’s agenda from within or slow down his agenda if they are assigned the wrong positions of power,” Green said.

“We want exactly what he campaigned on. If you approve a public option and trillions of dollars in new clean energy jobs and pay off some student debt and pass new corporate responsibility measures, we’ll be very happy. And we are all ready for the fight. “

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