NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

As Biden’s Cabinet takes shape, progressive groups plan for a post-Trump future

As Don­ald Trump con­tin­ues his increas­ing­ly pathet­ic attempts to over­turn the results of the Novem­ber 3rd elec­tion, Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden is pow­er­ing ahead with the tran­si­tion process – the most impor­tant part of which is choos­ing a team to help him gov­ern for the next four years.

Even before his elec­tion vic­to­ry, the spec­u­la­tion around who would be in the Biden team was intense, and the slow roll-out of appointees in the past few weeks has served to amp up the expec­ta­tions, opin­ions, and debates sur­round­ing the process. Most big media out­lets have focused their cov­er­age on the racial and gen­der diver­si­ty of the team – and most­ly have giv­en Biden glow­ing reviews.

CNN praised Biden’s moves to “cre­ate a diverse admin­is­tra­tion,” while the New York Times has praised the Pres­i­dent-elect for help­ing to break racial barriers.

Biden’s dri­ve towards a diverse admin­is­tra­tion is way more than mere win­dow-dress­ing, no mat­ter how hard the cyn­ics try to por­tray it as such.

The forth­com­ing admin­is­tra­tion will include so many bar­ri­er-break­ing indi­vid­u­als that it is worth list­ing a few of them:

Biden spent his elec­tion cam­paign try­ing to achieve care­ful bal­anc­ing act: on the one hand, he hint­ed to pro­gres­sives that his would be an “FDR-sized” pres­i­den­cy; while on the oth­er, he wooed bicon­cep­tu­al vot­ers by giv­ing estab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans like John Kasich and Col­in Pow­ell promi­nent spots at the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion. As a result, many pro­gres­sives were simul­ta­ne­ous­ly hope­ful that they could gain key Cab­i­net spots and fear­ful that Biden might appoint Repub­li­cans (as a point­less olive branch to the Par­ty of Trump).

But it seems that Biden is tak­ing nei­ther route.

The vast major­i­ty of appointees rep­re­sent a return to the Oba­ma years.

While that is obvi­ous­ly dis­ap­point­ing for those who have been hop­ing to see bold change, most pro­gres­sive strate­gists see this as about the best we could expect from Biden – giv­en his fix­a­tion with “reach­ing across the aisle” – and a good deal bet­ter than the ini­tial cab­i­net Barack Oba­ma assem­bled in 2008–2009.

The best we could expect from Biden is, how­ev­er, nowhere near good enough.

This is most clear­ly seen in Biden’s nation­al secu­ri­ty team, which is packed with mem­bers of “the Blob,” D.C.’s immov­able for­eign pol­i­cy establishment.

Antony Blinken has been moving in high level foreign policy circles for decades

Antony Blinken has been mov­ing in high lev­el for­eign pol­i­cy cir­cles for decades (Pho­to: U.S. Dept of State, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Dur­ing his time in the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion Antho­ny Blinken, the future Sec­re­tary of State, favored poli­cies like the coun­ter­pro­duc­tive U.S. inter­ven­tion in Libya and the con­tin­ued sup­ply­ing of weapons to Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s gov­ern­ment in Israel despite its human rights abuses.

Mean­while, Avril Haines (Biden’s pick for Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence) over­saw the Oba­ma administration’s glob­al drone assas­si­na­tion pro­gram and, more recent­ly, sup­port­ed the nom­i­na­tion of a Bush-era tor­tur­er to lead the CIA.

John Ker­ry, Obama’s sec­ond Sec­re­tary of State, has been named Spe­cial Pres­i­den­tial Envoy for Cli­mate, despite the fact that he has claimed that the cli­mate cri­sis will be solved by the unreg­u­lat­ed pri­vate sec­tor that remains wed­ded to dirty fos­sil fuels. The list goes on and on.

Although Biden has not nom­i­nat­ed any Repub­li­cans, his team has been crit­i­cized as too rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Wall Street and the cor­po­rate elite.

Antho­ny Blinken and Avril Haines have spent the Trump years as prin­ci­pals at Wes­t­Ex­ec Advi­sors, a con­sult­ing firm for weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers (Haines also worked for the dystopi­an night­mare that is Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies). Defense nom­i­nee Lloyd Austin sits on the board of Raytheon.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cedric Rich­mond, who has been tapped to lead the White House Office of Pub­lic Engage­ment, rakes in fos­sil fuel mon­ey despite his dis­trict being one of the worst pol­lut­ed in the country.

Also con­cern­ing are the appoint­ments of two for­mer exec­u­tives of the asset man­age­ment jug­ger­naut Black­Rock (a major investor in fos­sil fuels).

How­ev­er, Biden is nowhere near fin­ished fill­ing out his Cab­i­net, and con­tin­ued pres­sure on the Pres­i­dent-elect from pro­gres­sives appears to be working.

Although it seems like stan­dard-bear­ers like Bernie Sanders and Eliz­a­beth War­ren are out of the run­ning (despite both lob­by­ing for Cab­i­net jobs), the sur­prise nom­i­na­tion of California’s Ator­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra – an advo­cate of Medicare for All, staunch defend­er of California’s envi­ron­men­tal laws, and scourge of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try – to be Sec­re­tary of Health and Human Ser­vices shows that Biden is inter­est­ed in pro­gres­sive representation.

Xavier Becerra is California's Attorney General

Xavier Becer­ra is Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Commp­ns license)

With major roles such as labor, inte­ri­or, and edu­ca­tion sec­re­taries still up for grabs, pro­gres­sives should con­tin­ue to lean on Biden hard.

Ulti­mate­ly, it doesn’t mat­ter how­ev­er many Cab­i­net posi­tions pro­gres­sives are able to secure. For all his stat­ed inter­est in emu­lat­ing Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt, Biden is the Com­man­der-in-Chief, and he’ll set the direc­tion.

Faced with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a Biden admin­is­tra­tion that will too fre­quent­ly drag its heels on the bold change the U.S. bad­ly needs, what can pro­gres­sives do?

The answer is sim­ple: use our pow­er wher­ev­er we can find it. Like the Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus’ influ­ence in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. While the Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty in the House shrunk this year, the los­ing incum­bents were most­ly par­tial pro­gres­sives who hold neolib­er­al or even right wing views on a host of issues.

On the oth­er end of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal spec­trum, pro­gres­sives look set to actu­al­ly expand their pow­er. Fresh­men Jamaal Bow­man, Mondaire Jones, Marie New­man, and Cori Bush are all replac­ing more con­ser­v­a­tive Democ­rats – while the afore­men­tioned House Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus (led by Washington’s Prami­la Jaya­pal) is restruc­tur­ing to become a more cohe­sive leg­isla­tive force.

Pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions spent the last four years build­ing infra­struc­ture to defeat Trump and those who enable him. Soon, those orga­ni­za­tions will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to chan­nel their time, tal­ent, and trea­sure towards push­ing the new Biden admin­is­tra­tion to embrace the pro­gres­sive pol­i­cy direc­tions we need.

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