Joe Biden shores up a diverse but ‘centrist’ administration

By Chris Woods

December 1, 2020

Joe Biden

President-elect Joe Biden reportedly tapped several women and POC members of the Democratic establishment for top administration roles over the weekend.

In their press release, Biden’s transition team lauded the fact that he will be the first president with seven women in key communications position, including his long-time communications director Kate Bedingfield taking on the same mantle at the White House.

However, the majority of recently-announced (and rumoured) policy-making officials are establishment Democrats who have rejected calls for progressive policies — i.e. universal healthcare, an end to student debt and the “Green New Deal” — and, to various extents, supported traditionally conservative causes such as austerity policies and foreign wars.

Communications team

Biden’s team named seven women on Sunday for communications roles, included below with provided links for more profile information:

  • Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director: served as deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden-Harris campaign, as well as served as communications director for Vice President Biden and as associate communications director, deputy director of Media Affairs, and the director of response in the Obama-Biden White House.
  • Elizabeth E. Alexander, communications director for the First Lady: a senior advisor on the Biden-Harris campaign, Alexander spent the first years of the Obama-Biden administration as the press secretary to Vice President Biden, a role that followed her time as then-Senator Biden’s communications director on Capitol Hill. She has worked as a federal prosecutor in the US Attorneys’ offices in Washington, DC and Alexandria, Virginia, where she also served as a counselor to the US Attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.
  • Ashley Etienne, communications director for the vice president: served as a senior advisor on the Biden-Harris campaign. Before that, she served as communications director and senior advisor to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the first woman and person of colour to hold the position. Etienne was special assistant to the president and director of communications for the Cabinet in the Obama-Biden administration and also led communications on President Obama’s signature My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
  • Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary: was senior advisor to president-elect Joe Biden and chief of staff to Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris on the Biden-Harris campaign. Prior to her role on the campaign, she served as chief public affairs officer for, an NBC and MSNBC political analyst, and as regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs during the Obama-Biden administration.
  • Jen Psaki, White House press secretary: currently oversees the confirmations team for the Biden-Harris transition. During the Obama-Biden administration, Psaki held several senior roles, including White House communications director, State Department spokesperson under then-secretary of state John Kerry, deputy White House communications director and deputy White House press secretary during the financial crisis.
  • Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson for the vice president: served as a senior advisor on the Biden-Harris campaign after, in 2016, becoming the youngest presidential press secretary while working on Senator Bernie Sanders’s then-presidential campaign. Before joining the Biden-Harris campaign, Sanders was a CNN political commentator and served as principal of communication guidance group 360 Group LLC.
  • Pili Tobar, seputy White House communications director: Pili Tobar served as the communications director for coalitions on the Biden-Harris campaign. Before joining the campaign, Tobar served as the deputy director for America’s Voice, where she advocated on behalf of immigrants.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget: Neera Tanden

According to NPR, Biden recently tapped the president of Clinton-aligned think-tank the Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden as the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the federal budget.

Tanden worked as director of domestic policy for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and helped craft his health care bill, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Tanden was also policy director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. If confirmed, Tanden, a South Asian American, would be the first woman of colour to lead OMB.

However, Tanden also has a long history of “deficit politics”; The Daily Poster explains, she controversially pushed CAP’s 2010 proposal to reduce social security benefits in 2012 as Biden pushed for the deficit measures under the Obama administration. (Despite CAP’s name, the body accepted millions of dollars from large banks and companies, tech giants including Mark Zuckerberg, foreign governments including the United Arab Emirates, defense contractors and the health care industry).

Additionally, emails leaked between Tanden and Faiz Shakir, a journalist who served as chief editor of ThinkProgress — the media outlet arm of CAP — revealed she once advocated for asking Libya to “pay” the US back for its military support with oil. She later admitted to “pushing” Shakir when he asked then-nominee Hillary Clinton about her support for the Iraq War, although one witness labelled the attack a punch.

To be confirmed, Tanden would have to be confirmed by the Senate Budget Committee, which not only includes opposition from Republicans but is headed by Senator Bernie Sanders; Tanden emerged as one of Sanders’ most vocal critics throughout the Democrats primary, and the former presidential candidate ($) accused her of “maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas.”

Secretary of State: Antony Blinken

Blinken served as deputy secretary of state under Barack Obama, where he advised on Russia’s incursion into Crimea in 2014, the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden in 2011, and the fight against ISIS. He also served as staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel, and later as national security adviser to the then-vice president.

As deputy secretary of state, Blinken oversaw the US increase weapon supplies to Saudi forces in its war against Yemen. He later co-founded WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm The Intercept explained back in 2018 was set up to help tech firms navigate Pentagon contracts.

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines

Haines is a former deputy director of the CIA and a former deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration. Haines, 51, would be the first woman nominated to lead the US intelligence community, and has previously worked with the president-elect while serving on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as deputy chief counsel when Biden was the committee’s chairman. After leaving the Obama administration in 2017, she held several posts at Columbia University.

As BusinessInsider notes, Haines’ work under Obama involved controversially recommending Gina Haspel — who was been implicated in the agency’s use of torture — for CIA director, and redacting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the use of torture. She also approved a panel that ultimately decided not to reprimand CIA personnel who hacked into the Senate staffers writing the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.

Additionally, she played a key role in designing Obama’s drone program: as a 2013 Newsweek profile put it: “Haines was sometimes summoned in the middle of the night to weigh in on whether a suspected terrorist could be lawfully incinerated by a drone strike.”

Secretary of the Treasury: Janet Yellen

Yellen, 74, was chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, and served as a top economic adviser to President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to head the Treasury Department.

As Quartz reports, Yellen told Congress in July to provide “substantial support” to state and local governments — and, importantly, not dictating how they spend it — following the pandemic’s hit to revenue through tax collection and the costs of the new health measures.

But a key test for Yellen, who is on the board for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and has a reputation among some progressives as a “deficit fearmonger“, will be overcoming expected fear-mongering from Republicans over austerity measures post-Trump.

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate: John Kerry

A former presidential candidate, John Kerry will serve as ‘special presidential envoy for climate’, a new role Scientific American reports will include a seat on the National Security Council and suggests Kerry will work closely with Biden as a senior diplomat.

Kerry will be tasked with repairing America’s reputation on climate change under Donald Trump and returning the country to 2030 Paris targets. The senator has a long history in the area, working as a lead sponsor of an unsuccessful carbon cap-and-trade bill under Obama and helping to land the original Paris agreement as secretary of state.

But, like many on the list, he has butted heads with progressives; as a key sponsor of Biden in February, Kerry was overheard on a phone call considering his own presidential run to block Bernie Sanders, a move he lamented would require stepping down from the board of Bank of America and giving up his ability to make paid speeches.

Secretary of Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas

Mayorkas is a former deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and, according to VOA, is the first Latino and immigrant nominated to head the agency.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Mayorkas arrived in the US as a political refugee as a child, where he went on to work in law and join the Obama administration in 2009 as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. There, he implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted protection to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

As Bloomberg Opinion columnist Noah Smith explains, Mayorkas’ role signals a departure from some of Trump’s more radically anti-immigrant policies — family separations, sweeps through so-called sanctuary cities by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, the ban on travel from many majority-Muslim countries, and attempts to abolish DACA — but a return to Obama’s soft “deterrence” policies for Central American migrants, i.e. border detention.

National Security Adviser: Jake Sullivan

Sullivan was Biden’s national security adviser during the Obama administration, and served as deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

At age 44, Sullivan will be one of the youngest people to serve in the role in 60 years, and a recent Politico profile paints him as eager  to again return to Obama-era global alliances, return to the Iran deal, and “to rally our allies to combat corruption and kleptocracy, and to hold systems of authoritarian capitalism accountable for greater transparency and participation in a rules-based system.”

United Nations Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield

A former top diplomat for Obama on Africa, Thomas-Greenfield is a 35-year veteran of the US Foreign Service who has served across four continents before, as CNN explains, being jettisoned under Trump.

VOA notes she led US policy in sub-Saharan Africa during the West Africa Ebola outbreak, and, after leaving the State Department, took a senior leadership position at former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s global strategy company.

In another sign of Biden’s plans to restructure America’s global standing, the position of UN ambassador will be elevated to Cabinet level.

Rumoured Head of Transportation: Rahm Emmanuel

Finally, and most controversially, Axios reports that Biden is strongly considering Rahm Emanuel to run the Department of Transportation.

The former Chicago mayor has extensive experience with infrastructure spending, but, as FOX5 reports, has been accused of engaging in a cover-up to bury police camera footage after officer Jason Van Dyke shot Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, 16 times in 2014.

While Van Dyke was ultimately sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for the murder, Emanuel repeatedly blocked attempts to release the footage until after he was reelected in 2015 and a judicial order forced his hand. A state inspector general investigation later concluded that 16 other officers in the department destroyed witness testimonies and made false statements to inflate the threat McDonald posed.

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