Progressives’ wish list for Biden starts with Warren and Sanders

Written By: Sydney Ember © 2020 The New York Times The New York Times
New York Published: Nov 11, 2020, 11:08 PM(IST)

(File Photo) Joe Biden Photograph:( AFP )

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Two prominent progressive groups, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, on Wednesday urged President-elect Joe Biden to name left-leaning allies including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to top government posts

Two prominent progressive groups, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, on Wednesday urged President-elect Joe Biden to name left-leaning allies including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to top government posts, firing an opening salvo in the left’s campaign to exert influence over Biden’s agenda.

Underscoring one of their most significant priorities, the groups also called on Biden to create a new office dedicated to climate change that reports directly to the president.

The public appeals from the Sunrise Movement, a group of young climate organizers, and Justice Democrats, a grassroots organization that has helped elect people like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, signal the beginning of the left’s intense efforts to pressure Biden over the makeup of his executive branch and his administration’s immediate priorities.

And the move represents the end of a truce between Biden and progressives, who had united behind his candidacy during the presidential campaign with the mission of defeating President Donald Trump but who have deep ideological and generational differences.

The recommendations amount to something of a moon shot, and Biden, a longtime moderate, is very unlikely to choose many of the names put forward, if he picks any at all. Some of the recommendations are also unlikely to go anywhere with Democratic Party leaders if the appointments could possibly put Senate seats at risk; Sanders and Warren come from states led by Republican governors, and it is not clear who would fill their seats if they became vacant.

Many of the names appear intended to serve more as a message to Biden and Senate Democrats that the progressive groups are serious about pushing him and his administration leftward and will not be content with strictly moderate nominees who appear intended to win over Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Republicans.

Already, some liberal activist groups have warned Biden about backsliding on his commitment to progressive policies since he was declared the winner of the election Saturday. And with control of the Senate still unclear, progressives have shifted their focus to figuring out how they can persuade Biden to enact progressive policies through the executive branch, using executive orders and by appointing leaders to positions that act, in effect, as gatekeepers for policy.

“President-elect Biden must embrace this historic moment by keeping the party united and appointing progressive leaders who will help him usher in the most progressive Democratic administration in generations,” Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement.

The list of recommendations, for 13 key government positions, includes well-known progressive allies, some of whom would most likely be palatable to Democrats across the spectrum.

Still, some of the people on the list are sure to cause consternation in the party’s moderate wing.

Among the leaders the groups are pressing Biden to appoint, for instance, are Warren as Treasury secretary and Sanders as labor secretary — both standard-bearers of the progressive movement whose policies are viewed by some Democrats as too extreme.

Warren and Sanders are both said to be interested in the jobs. But appointing them to top government posts would be complicated by the fact that the states they represent, Massachusetts and Vermont, are led by Republican governors, and Democrats would want to make sure that any replacements would caucus with them to keep the balance of the Senate intact.

Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont said last month that if Sanders were appointed to the Cabinet, he would choose an independent who would caucus with the Democrats as a replacement. And progressives have argued that the Democratic-controlled legislature in Massachusetts could try to change state law to ensure a Democrat would temporarily replace Warren.

Also on the groups’ list:

— Rep. Barbara Lee of California for secretary of state

— Keith Ellison, attorney general of Minnesota, for attorney general

— Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, one of the four congresswomen known as the Squad, for secretary of housing and urban development

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, for secretary of health and human services

— Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico for secretary of the interior

— Rep. Chuy García of Illinois for secretary of transportation

— Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine for secretary of agriculture

— Economist Joseph Stiglitz for director of the National Economic Council

— Darrick Hamilton, an economist and the executive director of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University, for chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

— Mustafa Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation, for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

As part of their list of recommendations, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats are also urging Biden to create a White House Office of Climate Mobilization to coordinate climate efforts across the government, and to appoint as its leader either Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, whose presidential campaign last year centered on climate change; Gina McCarthy, an EPA administrator under President Barack Obama; or John Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress, who was an adviser to Obama on climate change. The proposal for the office was part of a sweeping set of recommendations put forth by Biden-Sanders joint policy task forces over the summer.

In addition to their top choices for each high-level position, the groups also provided alternative options, including Sarah Bloom Raskin, who served as deputy secretary of the Treasury under Obama, for Treasury secretary; Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey for secretary of agriculture; Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, for secretary of transportation; and Rep. Ro Khanna for secretary of state.

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