Biden’s Cabinet picks rankle progressive Democrats - GulfToday

Biden’s Cabinet picks rankle progressive Democrats

Trump’s strike hands Biden edge in 2020 Dems race

Joe Biden announces Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his nominee for secretary of transportation during a news conference at Delaware on Wednesday. Reuters

Andrew Feinberg, The Independent

As president-elect Joe Biden begins to roll out the balance of his cabinet, some top Democrats are losing patience with the left flank of the party.

The former vice president rode his reputation as an avatar of the center-left to a resounding primary victory over more explicitly left-wing rivals such as Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. But since he became the Democratic Party’s de facto leader this past spring, the soon-to-be 46th president has made a concerted effort to reassure progressives that they will have a voice in an administration that will “look like America”.

“We cannot meet the profound challenges of this new moment with old thinking and unchanged habits — or without diversity of background and perspective,” Biden said last month in a statement, introducing members of his national security and foreign policy team. That team will include the first African American director of National Intelligence and the first Latino and immigrant to helm the Department of Homeland Security.

His domestic policy team will also be among the most diverse in history, including the first female secretary of the Treasury, first African American deputy Treasury secretary, and the first openly gay (non-acting) cabinet member in transportation secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg.

Yet many progressives are dissatisfied with the president-elect’s staffing choices, most of whom – like Biden himself – are veterans of the Obama administration or have many years of experience in government service. Biden has also largely eschewed the practice of bringing serving members of Congress into his administration, with the exceptions of Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge – his pick to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development – and Louisiana’s Cedric Richmond, who will soon leave the House to run the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Both of those picks have rankled progressives. Some have wondered if Richmond’s ties to the fossil fuel industry could portend Biden going wobbly on climate matters. Others have suggested that tapping Fudge to run HUD rather than making her the first Black woman to helm the Department of Agriculture (a role for which she all but openly campaigned) smacks of tokenism. And the selection of former US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas to run DHS has raised eyebrows of immigration activists, who wanted someone more opposed to immigration enforcement-as-usual, such as former HUD Secretary Julian Castro.

It’s fair to say that the party’s progressive base has its hackles raised right now, the more vocal of whom are annoyed that Biden’s top picks haven’t included a high-profile representative from among their own ranks.

Congressional Progressive Caucus vice-chair Jamie Raskin said such tensions are nothing new and nothing to worry about.

“This is an old story where new political energy brings the Democrats into power, but then there is an old guard who actually have extensive governmental experience that presents itself for the top leadership positions,” said Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who recently won re-election for his third term in the House of Representatives.

Biden, Raskin explained, “is surrounded by people who have devoted their careers to government,” with whom he is comfortable working on a personal level. He stressed that such experience is not something progressives should intrinsically fear.

But another longtime progressive activist – a former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer who maintains ties with the Biden team – poo-poohed the idea that Biden’s failure to select his cabinet from a roster of progressive darlings foreshadows an administration devoid of progressive policy initiatives.

“I think the reason you’re seeing these reactions is because although it’s clear that many good progressive ideas are included in Biden’s plans, the people are not the people who many of the progressives want,” they said. “But the challenge for progressives is to accept that they will get progressive policies without the progressive champion figures that they want.”

The veteran operative pointed to the recent fight between Representatives Gregory Meeks and Joaquim Castro for the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an example of a fight over “the superficial versus the substantive” that is comparable to the tensions over Biden’s staffing choices.

“I think progressives are sort of getting too wrapped up into the personality of it all,” they said.  “Like when Biden selects people of colour in these instances, the progressives who said he needs people of colour see a pick like Cedric Richmond and immediately say: ‘No, not that one!’”

The activist base, they explained, is caught in a definition of who is a true “progressive” that relies far too much on whether one conducts themselves with a certain “swagger.”

“That tension appears to be playing out as Biden rolls out his latest selections and finalizes his picks for more top cabinet posts, including his Attorney General.

Both of Biden’s top candidates, former deputy attorney General Sally Yates and soon-to-be former Alabama senator Doug Jones, are white and are closer in age to Biden than most of the party’s activist base. Many advocates for social and racial justice argue that Biden – who has made racial justice a priority for his administration’s first 100 days – should select someone whose “lived experience” would factor into their management of the Justice Department.

But Khary Pennebaker, a Wisconsin Democrat and former House candidate who serves on the Democratic National Committee, was dismissive of the idea that Jones would not be faithful to the concerns of the activists who filled the streets this past summer after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“The history that he comes with, fighting for civil rights down in Alabama… and the work that he’s done being a good soldier for the Democratic Party, I think he would be a phenomenal Attorney General,” he said.

Pennebaker said the complaints over the age and history of Biden’s staffing choices are somewhat hypocritical considering progressives’ continued support of older champions such as Sanders.

“Some folks will allow nuance for some, and no nuance for others,” he said. “Like they will still allow Bernie to be the champion for things, but yet someone else can’t who is his same age? That bothers me.”

With Senate control still on the line in next month’s Georgia runoff elections and the House majority in the single digits, Biden’s ability to keep Democrats together will be essential to the success of his presidency.

Michael Starr Hopkins, a Democratic strategist, called out those who’d hit Biden from the left for something as small as a personnel choice, and predicted that those who insist on such internecine fights will end up harming both their cause and their party’s.

Raskin, the Congressional Progressive Caucus Vice-Chair, said both sides are going to need to keep making adjustments — but stressed that both are fully capable of doing so.

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