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.
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:
- The first female treasury secretary
- The first woman of color to lead OMB
- The first Black Deputy Treasury Secretary
- The first Black woman to lead the Council of Economic Advisors
- The first Latino Health and Human Services Secretary
- The first Latino Secretary of Homeland Security
- The first female Director of National Intelligence
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.
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.
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.