Progressives frustrated with representation as Biden Cabinet takes shape

Some progressives are getting increasingly frustrated with the how President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' Biden: McCarthy's support of Cheney ouster is 'above my pay grade' Conservative group sues over prioritization of women, minorities for restaurant aid MORE’s potential Cabinet is shaping up, venting that the incoming administration does not properly reflect the role progressives played helping Biden get to the White House.

Liberal groups and lawmakers bristled at Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeCarter sworn in as House member to replace Richmond, padding Democrats' majority HHS, HUD team up to extend COVID-19 vaccine access in vulnerable communities Iowa governor signs law allowing landlords to refuse Section 8 vouchers MORE (D-Ohio) getting passed over for Agriculture secretary in favor of Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, who held the role in the Obama administration. And there is growing concern the Biden team will pass over Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandInterior secretary approves new Cherokee constitution providing citizenship rights for freedmen Carter sworn in as House member to replace Richmond, padding Democrats' majority Biden administration approves major offshore wind project MORE (D-N.M.), a progressive favorite, for Interior secretary.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response Briahna Joy Gray: Warren not endorsing Sanders in 2020 was 'really frustrating' House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez hits Biden for taking 'the side of occupation' in Mideast violence Yang: Those who thought tweet in support of Israel was 'overly simplistic' are correct McConnell hits Democratic critics of Israel MORE (D-N.Y.) this week took issue with some of the Cabinet picks and urged Biden to include more progressives in his remaining selections.


Biden’s Cabinet picks so far have mostly consisted of establishment figures and longtime allies such as Tony Blinken for secretary of State, Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenJudge rejects GOP effort to block tax provision in Biden stimulus bill Growing inflation is Biden's hidden tax on working Americans The Biden administration's domestic approach to foreign policy MORE for Treasury secretary, Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured Veterans shouldn't have to wait for quality care MORE for secretary of Veterans Affairs and ex-Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMore than half of eligible Latinos voted in 2020, setting record Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows The Memo: GOP attacks bounce off Biden MORE adviser Neera TandenNeera TandenManchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' Manchin says he doesn't support DC statehood, election reform bills MORE for the Office of Management and Budget.

While the choices have largely succeeded in not upsetting the Democratic base, there is bubbling skepticism among progressive groups that Biden will commit to including picks for top Cabinet positions that will represent their views.

“I think the Biden people have been a little bit less concerned about satisfying progressives. I think they’re a little more concerned about not alienating progressives,” said one Democratic strategist close to the transition.

Sanders told Axios earlier this week that he felt Biden would not have won the White House without the backing of the progressive movement, which deserved “important seats” in the administration.

“Have I seen that at this point? I have not," he said.

Ocasio-Cortez told reporters on Wednesday that she worried there was no cohesive vision from the Biden Cabinet thus far, noting some of the picks have been more conservative than others.


The Biden team has defended its choices, arguing that the Cabinet is the most diverse in history and will be ready to tackle a whirlwind of crises upon taking office.

“The team that we’ve put together has been a combination of experienced, crisis-tested leaders, many of whom have served in government previously, which the president-elect and vice president-elect see as invaluable at this time,” Jen PsakiJen PsakiBlinken talks with Netanyahu amid escalating violence White House: 'Disturbing' to see Cheney booted for telling the truth The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Republican reactions to Cheney's removal MORE, the soon-to-be White House press secretary, told reporters in a briefing Friday.

Some liberal Democrats have also come to the transition’s defense, noting there are still a handful of Cabinet positions left to fill. They have also pointed out that Biden campaigned as a more moderate Democrat who would seek to bridge the political divide exacerbated in recent years.

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOvernight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill Almost 20 advocacy groups team up to pressure Congress to pass health care bill for immigrants MORE (D-Wash.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, praised Biden’s choices of Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraMcDonald's teams up with HHS on pro-vaccination campaign Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections MORE for Secretary of Health and Human Services and Katherine TaiKatherine TaiUS files first trade complaint against Mexico over tampered union vote at GM plant On The Money: Job openings jump to record high of 8.1 million | Wyden opposes gas tax hike | Airlines feel fuel crunch GOP senator urges Biden to withdraw support for COVID vaccine patent waiver MORE as U.S. trade representative and said the caucus has been “engaging with the transition team on a regular basis.”

“I think there are some issues, particularly for me, around Cabinet members who are having engagements with the revolving door, if you will, and so I do think that that's something we're looking at very closely,” Jayapal told reporters.

Biden has indicated he is unlikely to nominate Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' Briahna Joy Gray: Warren not endorsing Sanders in 2020 was 'really frustrating' McConnell hits Democratic critics of Israel MORE (D-Mass.) to his Cabinet out of concern for the tight margins in the Senate, but some of his other picks have also disappointed progressives.

Black lawmakers and liberals pushed for Fudge, a Black woman, to serve as Agriculture secretary, but the job went to Vilsack, a 69-year-old white man. While Fudge was ultimately chosen to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it was seen by some as a slight.

"While we believe Rep. Fudge can excel at any leadership position, we share the confusion of many about this move and are left to believe this choice stems from shallow racial stereotypes about the office," Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise Movement, a progressive youth climate group, said in a statement.

And now there are fresh concerns that Biden may bypass Haaland to lead the Interior department. 

A coalition of indigenous and progressive groups, including Sunrise, on Thursday wrote to Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallStudy: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling MORE (D-N.M.) asking him to withdraw from consideration for the position. Udall and Haaland are on the shortlist to run the department, but Haaland would represent a historic pick as the first Native American to do so.

“It’s a mystical opportunity for this agency to do something historic,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) who had initially been backed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for the Interior job before it threw its weight behind Haaland.

“The agency that was set up eons ago, Interior, to basically disenfranchise and colonize Indigenous America, for Deb to be secretary America will have its first indigenous person in a Cabinet but more historic, in Interior, in the agency that was set up for that purpose. Maybe I’m naive but there are certain political scripts that are almost written for you,” he said.


Sunrise is also hoping Biden taps officials to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and climate offices who align with the Green New Deal, the ambitious package backed by Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive lawmakers.

“We do not think that there is anywhere near the amount of representation yet in the administration for the people that elected him,” said Garrett Blad, a spokesperson for Sunrise Movement, who said tapping Haaland for Interior would represent “a real easy win for everyone involved.”

One Democrat, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, questioned the aggressive public lobbying strategy from some candidates for Cabinet roles and advocacy groups, suggesting it might undermine their case with the Biden team.

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group, said other major players would be unlikely to respond to Sunrise’s letter.

“No one’s going to take the bait as far as picking a fight with Sunrise,” he told The Hill. “It’s not worth it; there's no upside to it.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.