Biden forms team of insiders

Biden forms team of insiders
© Greg Nash, Getty Images

Call it the insider administration.

The incoming Biden administration is shaping up to be a team of insiders filled with Washington household names.

Biden has picked Obama-era officials, members of Congress, and people from his inner circle for his White House, a move that indicates he is aiming for stability and expertise as he inherits a recession and public health crisis.


This tactic to staff up the White House is the opposite of the drain-the-swamp movement from four years ago, which led to lobbyists scrambling to get to know the incoming Trump administration officials.

“We’re in a transition from an unorthodox administration to an orthodox administration in such a time of chaos with the pandemic and with the transition being somewhat challenged,” said Ivan Zapien, a longtime Democratic lobbyist.

“I get that draining the swamp and being against Washington insiders and lobbyists polls well but, in reality, there are times when you need experience and this is one of them,” he added.

A number of the nominees are familiar to Biden from the Obama years.

Biden this week announced he would name Obama’s Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE as his Agriculture secretary, Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughExpats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines Veteran suicides dropped to lowest level in 12 years Veterans grapple with new Afghanistan: 'Was my service worth it?' MORE as his secretary of Veterans Affairs and Obama’s national security adviser Susan RiceSusan RiceSinema in Arizona as Democrats try to get spending-infrastructure deal White House says it's 'closer to agreement than ever' after House punts infrastructure vote Manchin says 'I don't see a deal tonight' MORE as his director of the Domestic Policy Council.

“To the permanent class of Washingtonians, the Trump administration looked a little bit like the bar scene in ‘Star Wars.’ Like, who are all these people and what’s all going on,” said Kevin O’Neill, who was a fundraiser for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

“What Biden wants is the ‘Cheers’ bar. You walk in, everybody knows your name, they know where you sit, they know your drink, and they value predictability and stability as core things,” O’Neill said, a partner at Arnold & Porter.

A transition official said the Biden team is focused on constructing a group of officials who will be ready and able serve Biden and the country from day one.

“Amid the crises facing the country, President-Elect Biden is building a team of qualified and competent leaders to get things back on track and advance his bold agenda to build back better. Each of these nominees are forward-thinking, crisis-tested and experienced, and they are ready to quickly use the levers of government to make meaningful differences in the lives of Americans and help govern on day one."

Obama also hired a number of Washington insiders, most notably then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the House Democratic campaign chief who became White House chief of staff.

But he also hired some lesser-known names, including Rice, then an assistant secretary at the State Department and businessman Jeff ZientsJeff ZientsWhite House details plans for vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Council for Mental Wellbeing — NIH study finds mix-and-match boosters effective More than one-third of eligible seniors have received boosters, White House says MORE — who is now about to become Biden’s coronavirus czar.

When President George H.W. Bush was elected, many of his aides were President Reagan holdovers. But there were exceptions to that, argued Nels Olson, who worked in the Bush 41 White House presidential personnel office.

“It’s probably the closest in the last 50 years but there was still fiction given Reagan was perceived as philosophically more conservative. When the George H.W. Bush team came in, there were definitely a number of the Reagan people that left for obvious reasons,” said Olson, vice chairman at talent acquisition firm Korn Ferry. 

Stewart Verdery, who served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration, said Biden appears to be looking for experienced players in his foreign policy team.

“The national security team, in particular, is have to rebuild trust with our allies that has been seriously tested the past four years.  It’s probably not fair to call it a third Obama term, but the dynamic is very similar to the decisions George H.W. Bush made after the 1988 election,” said Verdery, the CEO of Monument Advocacy.

Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgePowell death leads to bipartisan outpouring of grief Ethics watchdog accuses Psaki of violating Hatch Act New HUD rule aimed at preventing evictions from public housing MORE (D-Ohio), who was tapped to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraFDA proposes rule to offer over-the-counter hearing aids Overnight Health Care — Presented by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing — FDA panel endorses booster shots of Johnson & Johnson vaccine Biden administration to invest 0 million to boost health care, attract workers MORE (D), the longtime lawmaker, wh is Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Health and Human Services, have years of experience on Capitol Hill.

Steve RicchettiSteve RicchettiBiden and big business: It's complicated LIVE COVERAGE: Biden tries to unify divided House Biden gets more aggressive with agenda in balance MORE and Ron KlainRon KlainAmericans simply don't want the costs of Biden's Build Back Better bill Biden approval at 50 percent in CNN poll Interpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan MORE, who will be counselor and chief of staff, are two other longtime Washington hands who are well-known commodities. Ricchetti previously co-owned a lobbying firm with his brother.

“Ricchetti is somebody who has never forgotten his roots as a staffer but he’s also one that believes in the president elect’s agenda and has been with him for quite some time,” Olson said.


Klain served as the Ebola czar for Obama and has worked for years for Democrats such as former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreMcAuliffe on 2000 election: 'I wish the United States Supreme Court had let them finish counting the votes' All Democrats must compromise to pass economic plans, just like 1993 Amy Coney Barrett sullies the Supreme Court MORE and Biden.

“DC just craves order and certainty,” Zapien, a partner at Hogan Lovells, said. "People just want to see appointments and announcements where they can sort of predict where things can go but at least once a month you’re able to finish your dinner on a Friday night without having to jump on a conference call at 10:30 p.m. I think known people give a sense that that’s what’s coming down the pike."

Lobbyists adjusted to the Trump administration and Trump aides have been no stranger to working with outside influence, but the incoming Biden administration is providing a sense of comfort to lobbyists looking to interact with people who understand policy and process, sources said.

“The main theme in Biden’s appointments is not only that they’re establishment types, but that they’re folks with whom Biden is comfortable and they’re comfortable with each other. The contrast between the incoming administration and the outgoing one is stark," said Robert Shea, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bush 43. 

One source said that the Biden cabinet is already full of people that Washington insiders are checking if they have their most recent cell phone number.

“If we’re playing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, most people can get home in two moves. Under Trump, most people needed four or five,” the source said.