Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity

Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity
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Progressives are seeking to avoid a civil war in the Democratic Party even as they assert their influence on President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE’s Cabinet picks.

When Biden has named a Cabinet member, it has generally been met by applause from the party, including the left wing, even if the pick was not the number one candidate of progressives.

“The goal is unity. We're a diverse caucus, and President-Elect Biden has promised a diverse Cabinet — diverse in every way,” said Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownDemocrats to levy fines on maskless lawmakers on House floor Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege Democrats offer bill fining lawmakers who don't wear masks in Capitol MORE (D-Md.). “There are going to be moderates; there are going to be progressives.”


Liberals have made their voices clear throughout the early process, urging Biden not to put in his Cabinet figures such as Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama White House chief of staff who helped build a Democratic majority in the mid-2000s, but who has tangled with progressives. Emanuel has been talked about as a pick to lead the Transportation Department.

It’s all part of an effort to steer Biden’s selections, but to then close ranks after a pick is named.

“You advocate, it's a competitive sport, it's a contact sport,” Brown said. “But once the president-elect makes a nomination, you know, he ... deserves his Cabinet.” 

Biden on Thursday formally named Brian Deese as director of the White House National Economic Council. In doing so, he brushed aside the blanket objections from some progressives to Wall Street executives or corporate lobbyists in the Cabinet. Deese, who served in top positions in the Obama administration, is a managing director at investment firm BlackRock. 

Biden has named former Federal Reserve Chair Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits The Hill's Morning Report - How many Republicans will vote for Trump's impeachment? On The Money: Sanders will be gatekeeper for key Biden proposals | Senate majority gives Biden path to student loan forgiveness | Confirmation hearing for Yellen expected next Tuesday MORE as his Treasury secretary nominee, a pick applauded by liberals even though some had touted Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden to tap Rohit Chopra to lead CFPB, Gensler for SEC chair: reports Biden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Porter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector MORE (D-Mass.) for the role.

He’s picked longtime aide Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenFor Joe Biden, an experienced foreign policy team Biden selects Wendy Sherman for No. 2 State Department post Overnight Defense: Agency watchdogs probing response to Capitol riots | 25,000 guardsmen now approved for inauguration security | Troops levels in Afghanistan, Iraq hit 2,500 MORE as his secretary of State nominee, Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasOvernight Defense: Agency watchdogs probing response to Capitol riots | 25,000 guardsmen now approved for inauguration security | Troops levels in Afghanistan, Iraq hit 2,500 Biden briefed by federal officials on security concerns regarding inauguration Biden formally appoints NSA's Anne Neuberger to key national security position MORE to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Avril Haines as his director of national intelligence and former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryFor Joe Biden, an experienced foreign policy team Biden's trade policy needs effective commercial diplomacy Biden taps ex-Obama aide Anita Dunn as senior adviser MORE as special envoy on climate.


Not all of these picks were the top choices of liberals either, but criticism has been muted.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a prominent liberal group, said Biden has made the proper signals to the left to show its values will be represented.

He singled out Biden’s pick, long expected, of Ron KlainRon KlainGottlieb: Demand could complicate Biden's 100-day vaccine distribution plan Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Incoming Biden chief of staff on COVID vaccine rollout: 'We're inheriting a huge mess' MORE as White House chief of staff.

“This sent a larger signal that when Biden has multiple acceptable options on the table for a position but progressives have a preference, he will move in that direction," Green said in an email.

Green also hailed Biden's economic appointments, singling out Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey for their “impeccable progressive bona fides,” as well as Yellen for “a proven track record of challenging powerful interests, including the big banks.”

Liberals do not want to handicap Biden’s incoming administration with criticism, particularly given the challenges he’ll face: an ongoing pandemic, a struggling economy and a Senate that will be in GOP hands, or that Democrats could hold after Georgia’s two runoff elections by the most slender of margins.

“Our main focus right now is winning the Senate races in Georgia so we can get appointees confirmed, ideally the most progressive appointees possible,” said a spokesman for NextGen America, a liberal organization that had pressed Biden to resist corporate appointments.

A few liberals have expressed discontent.

Waleed Shahid, spokesman for the Justice Democrats, lamented what his group considers a dearth of progressive figures on the Biden team so far. Aside from Bernstein and Boushey, he said, “there are not many progressive champions who have been appointed.” 

That dynamic, he warned, sets the stage for internal fights next year with congressional Democrats, particularly in the House, where roughly 40 percent of the caucus belongs to the Progressive Caucus. 

“If Biden wants to have an administration that's reflective of the entirety of the Democratic Party, there's some real urgency to have adequate progressive representation,” Shahid said this week in an email. 

Liberals are also grumbling about the prospect that Biden may tap Jeffrey Zients, a senior adviser to Obama who more recently ran an investment firm, for a leading role in the coronavirus response. 

Sunrise Movement urged the Biden campaign in July to not consider specifically any BlackRock executives until the company makes shifts in its sustainability practices.

“There are many diverse, qualified people that can help Joe Biden and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden-Harris team unveils inauguration playlist Trump approval rating relatively unchanged in wake of Capitol rioting: NBC News poll Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday MORE Build Back Better who didn’t choose to work at predatory investment firms. The revolving door between Wall Street and the White House does no good for working people or the planet,” said Evan Weber, the group’s political director.

Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who received backing from major progressive groups during his run for Congress, was positive about official Biden selections so far.

“So far, I see diversity and ideology. I would like to see more progressives chosen, particularly as we look at a position like secretary of Education, which obviously I am passionate about,” he told CNN.

Union leader Randi Weingarten is being floated to run the Department of Education. She’s currently at the helm of the American Federation of Teachers.

Other union leaders have emerged as potential candidates for Biden’s cabinet such as Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, for Labor secretary.


Following the news that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo was being considered to head the Department of Health and Human Services, liberal groups Demand Progress and the Revolving Door Project said she would be a “disastrous pick.” 

“Her record on health is a total disaster — and because of her mismanagement, COVID rates in Rhode Island are around twice the national average. ... She has a lengthy track record of failures in the health care space in particular,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress.

Raimondo on Thursday said she is no longer in the running for the post.