Joe Biden bets on old allies to help him face new crises

Together, they represent the fulfillment of a promise – going back to the early days of the primaries – that Biden would prioritize government expertise and experience immersed in the Democratic Party’s moderate tendency. But he was also criticized, mainly by the left, for turning a blind eye to the challenges he will face in bringing Republicans to the table and not expanding his inner circle.

It is a group, say Biden’s allies, who have been assembled knowing that the new president will step into office without room for bureaucratic hiccups, unnecessary dramas or on-the-job training. The coronavirus pandemic is killing thousands of Americans every day and decimating the economy, while exposing dire gaps in the social safety net.

“Typically, a new government tries to measure its success and plan its achievements for the first hundred days. But this is a team that lacks that kind of luxury,” said New Jersey deputy Andy Kim, a former civil servant who worked at the Pentagon and the State Department. “This is a team that needs to be deployed not for a hundred days, but for a hundred hours.”

The slowness of the Trump administration further complicated the situation. A presidential nominee in November delayed formal recognition of election results, temporarily blocking Biden officials from the offices they will soon take over. And Trump continues to publicly amplify absurd allegations about a rigged election while talking about dead-end conspiracies to nullify his results.

“What gives me comfort,” said Kim, amid uncertainty about the cooperation of government officials, “is knowing that this team from Biden already knows how to govern, that this is a team that has been tested.”

Breaking the inner circle

But some of the choices that Kim says are helping him “sleep better at night” have also angered Democrats, who hoped Biden would have a wider network. Biden said he wants to be a “bridge” for a new generation of leaders. But many of those closest to him, especially in high positions in the White House, are loyal or graying operative members of the party.

Tuesday’s announcement that Bruce Reed, Biden’s chief of staff as vice president, will be his deputy chief of staff next year underscored the president-elect’s desire to surround himself with longtime allies – even if they irritate some in the party. Progressive leaders have spent weeks arguing that Reed, a centrist who worked on the crime bill and the 1994 social security reform during his time at Bill Clinton’s White House, should be excluded.

Progressives vying to incorporate leaders from their own ranks widely praised the campaign and the transition for being accessible, but found that convincing Biden to step out of his comfort zone could be the biggest obstacle to be overcome.

“The real challenge,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, “is to learn more about who is in the inner circle – and how to take into account people who are not in the inner circle.”

Biden’s internal sanctuary of advisers is on its way to having a list of the White House’s most influential jobs. The new chief of staff, Ron Klain, is a longtime confidant of Biden and Steve Ricchetti, another close ally, will be the president’s adviser. Mike Donilon, who held that position in Biden’s vice president’s office, was named senior adviser to the president.
Antony Blinken, Biden’s top foreign policy advisor, will be a short walk from the State Department, for which he was appointed to lead. Susan Rice, Denis McDonough, John Kerry, Tom Vilsack and Vivek Murthy are among the veterans of the Obama administration who are likely to join Biden’s – with Vilsack and Murthy nominated for the same positions they held under Obama.
Biden also recruited a number of progressive leaders, led by Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, for important positions and more for influential but lower profile advisory positions.

Monday’s additions by a former aide to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bharat Ramamurti, as deputy director of the National Economic Council for Financial Reform and Consumer Protection, and Joelle Gamble, chosen to be the president’s special assistant for economic policy, for Biden’s National Economic Council it was a great victory for liberals. And the same announcement that included Reed also named Gautam Raghavan, chief of staff to the president of Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, before joining the transition, as deputy director of the Presidential Personnel Office.

But the big government tent is still centered in the center, creating a list so far that mainly reflects the president-elect’s policy while seeking to fulfill his promise to form a team that “looks like America”.

That effort sparked a whirlwind of historic innovations, beginning with his decision in August to hire California senator Kamala Harris, who will soon become the first black woman and descendant from South Asia to serve as vice president.
In recent weeks, Biden has brought together teams from economics, public health and foreign policy with nominees innovators. Among them, awaiting approval in the Senate: former Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen, the first woman to hold that position, who is now in line to do the same as Treasury secretary. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, selected to head the Department of Health and Human Services, would be the first Latino in that position. Retired Army General Lloyd Austin is in line to be the first black to head the Department of Defense. A longtime national security professional, Avril Haines, is on her way to being the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence. Alejandro Mayorkas would be the first Latin and immigrant to serve in charge of Homeland Security.
Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, chosen by Biden for the Department of Transportation, will become – if confirmed – the first member of the Senate-approved LGBTQ Cabinet.

Liberals vow not to repeat old mistakes

Biden’s transition was unique because of the intense scrutiny he received from a wide variety of interest groups and movement leaders.

It is the first democratic cabinet filling process to take place in the age of social media. Those who lead the attack on the left are also more informed and optimistic about the powers of the presidency and agency leaders than they did more than a decade ago, when Obama took office.

“The Revolving Door Project is an explicit response to what I saw as failures of the progressives in 2008 and 2009, but even more generally throughout the Obama era to be fully involved in the importance of the executive branch,” said Jeff Hauser of founder and director watchdog group. “Especially the transition, but throughout.”

But Hauser, whose criticisms of nominees and possible choices about his business ties allegedly angered some around Biden, is more of an idiot – to pressure Democrats to aggressively pursue his agenda by all available means – than a rebellious arsonist.

“I understand that in the midst of all these crises, there is a trend towards specialization,” said Hauser. “Biden thinks he has a mandate based on how he positioned himself in the primaries. And therefore, whether or not exactly what I would do, I can respect that as a base.”

The questions going forward, he added, are unlikely to be answered in headlines and nominations for big bureaucracies, but they fall into the hierarchy as Biden, his team and senior management leaders begin to fill the team’s undersecretary, undersecretary and job head – all opportunities to bring less experienced but accomplished people out of the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC.

Melissa Byrne, a former aide to Senator Bernie Sanders who spent time in Obama’s first campaign and volunteered for a period in her transition, argued that empowering people with origins in the movement would benefit the White House during the inevitable conflicts with hardline Republicans.

His concerns speak of broader anxieties among Democrats, who fear that Biden’s orbit may be overestimating his ability to forge negotiations in good faith with a radicalized Republican Party and loyal to Trump.

“You need people who don’t waver when things get really tough. Because it’s going to be very difficult. I don’t know if people are really prepared for what the Trumpers are going to do in the next four years,” Byrne said. “It will make the Tea Party look like Obama’s best friend.”

The promise of Biden’s campaign, in the primaries and in the general election confrontation with Trump, also weighs on post-campaign decision making. His mandate is vast and complicated and can – when he takes office and start promoting his agenda – create conflicting imperatives.

The biggest challenge ahead, said Nina Smith, a former campaign adviser for Buttigieg, will simply be “politics”.

“Biden is presenting himself as a healer and healers have to deal with wounds and scars. And this is a country that has been deeply wounded and healed,” said Smith. “So the politics of everything, from the policies he follows, to whoever comes to different meetings, to whoever he hires to implement his agenda – it’s all on the table.”