Progressives unveil Biden Cabinet wish list

Two top progressive groups on Wednesday urged President-elect Joe Biden to fill his Cabinet with their allies, the most explicit effort yet for left-wing activists to influence the future 46th president’s administration. 

Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, a group of youth climate change activists, pressed Biden to nominate progressives such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to top posts and called on him to establish a White House Office of Climate Mobilization dedicated specifically to climate change.

“President-elect Biden must embrace this historic moment by keeping the party united and appointing progressive leaders who will help him usher in the most progressive Democratic administration in generations,” said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats. “Progressives make up close to half the party in Congress and deserve representation in the next administration.” 

The two groups highlighted their preferences for a number of climate-related posts, including Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), one of the first Indigenous women to serve in the House, to lead the Interior Department; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) to serve as assistant to the president on climate mobilization; and Mustafa Ali of the National Wildlife Federation to be tapped as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

They also recommended Sanders to lead the Labor Department, Warren to helm the Treasury Department, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to serve as secretary of State, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) to lead the Justice Department, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to oversee the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Beyond their top picks, the groups also floated alternative choices who would be sympathetic to progressive causes. 

The suggestions come amid backbiting between left-wing and moderate lawmakers and activists over the makeup of the next White House and a burgeoning blame game over last week’s down-ballot disappointments in the House, Senate and state legislatures.

Progressives and centrists had enjoyed a détente from the battles they waged in 2016 as they united to unseat President Trump in the 2020 cycle. Biden made a point of appealing to liberal groups, forming unity task forces that included Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash and adopting some policies of his progressive rivals after he clinched the Democratic nomination, including Warren’s bankruptcy plan.

But with the goal of flipping the White House accomplished, divisions between liberals and moderates have split open again.

The two sides have traded blame over whether Biden’s victory means he has a progressive mandate or whether the facts that Democrats lost House seats and have thus far failed to flip the Senate are signs that moderation is needed. Liberals have claimed they were responsible for energizing the party base during the 2020 cycle, while centrists have said slogans like “defund the police” and the Green New Deal contributed to their down-ballot losses.

“There is no denying Republicans levied salient rhetorical attacks against Democrats, but this will continue to happen as it does every cycle,” progressive groups said in a memo Wednesday. “If we abandon our core progressive base and agenda, Democrats will not hold onto the House majority in the 2022 midterms and will have no hope of gaining ground in the Senate.”

Still, with Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), expected to keep control of the Senate, it is unclear how easily Biden could get progressive Cabinet nominees confirmed even if he wanted to.

And with some picks such as Sanders and Warren hailing from states with Republican governors, opening up a vacancy in their Senate seats could lead to temporary replacements who could expand the GOP majority. 

But the two progressive groups indicated McConnell should not be a roadblock to cobbling together a progressive administration.

“Democrats have a once-in-a-generation moment to deliver policies at the scale of the crises our generation is facing,” said Prakash. “The Senate can’t be an excuse; whether or not Mitch McConnell remains the Majority Leader, we need an Office of Climate Mobilization and visionary personnel in the Biden administration who are ready to use every tool in their disposal to create millions of good-paying green jobs.”

Tags 2020 2020 election Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Barbara Lee Bernie Sanders biden administration Biden cabinet centrist Democrats Deb Haaland Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Jay Inslee Joe Biden Justice Democrats Keith Ellison Mitch McConnell Pramila Jayapal progressives Rashida Tlaib Sunrise Movement

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