While Joe Biden proceeds to fill his cabinet, lame duck Donald Trump is trying to plant right-wing supporters into federal agencies to sabotage Biden’s presidency.
Some on the left are concerned about Biden’s picks, but they are relatively predictable as Biden turns mainly to veterans of the Democratic establishment. For example, Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, served as deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state and is in the foreign policy establishment.
Blinken broke with Biden to support the armed intervention in Libya and has argued that Israel should keep receiving US military aid even if it refuses to honor international agreements. Blinken believes diplomacy needs to be “supplemented by deterrence” and has shown little interest in reining in the sprawling US global military presence. But this time Biden will be president.
Janet Yellen is a good choice as treasury secretary, if for no other reason than Biden could have done a lot worse. Some on the left had hoped for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but Biden may have figured Warren is needed in the Senate, and Yellen is a respected economist and former Federal Reserve chair who is relatively apolitical. She is not an advocate of austerity policies and has spoken of the need for the government to extend “extraordinary fiscal support” during the pandemic.
John Kerry as special envoy for climate may show Biden takes climate change seriously, since Kerry does believe climate change is a problem — which is a welcome change from the Trump years — though many environmentalists are concerned that Kerry favors a market-based approach to putting a price on carbon.
Avril Haines is the choice for director of national intelligence, with experience in the intelligence community, working for the Bush and Obama administrations in jobs for the National Security Council, the State Department and the CIA. In her stint as deputy CIA chief during the Obama years, she oversaw the use of drones, which has raised concerns of human rights groups. But her main job will be to restore nonpartisanship to intel agencies after four years of deep partisanship under Trump.
Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of Homeland Security is likely to roll back the Trump administration’s cruelest immigration policies, in addition to stabilizing the agency after the turmoil and politicization. Mayorkas, who was brought to the US as a baby by parents fleeing Cuba in 1959, was one of the original architects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But a 2015 DHS inspector general report that found Mayorkas inappropriately helped several companies obtain employment visas — which Mayorkas disputed — may be brought up by Republicans.
Biden reportedly plans to name recently retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III as secretary of defense. As the chief of US Central Command, he oversaw US military operations across the Middle East for three years before his retirement in 2016, but appointing a recently retired general would violate long-standing traditions and a law that stipulates that the Secretary of Defense must be a civilian. That law was waived in 2017 to confirm Gen. James Mattis as Trump’s first defense secretary. We’d rather re-establish the tradition of civilian control of the Defense Department. If Austin’s nomination runs aground, a good alternate candidate would be Jeh Johnson, a former general counsel of the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2012, when he quit. He was nominated as secretary of Homeland Security in October 2013.
Biden may be choosing moderates to avoid tough confirmation fights in an intensely partisan Senate. He also can’t afford to lose any Democratic senators in a chamber that Democrats will only narrowly control if they win the two Georgia runoff races Jan. 5. The close Senate buried lefties’ hopes for Bernie Sanders as labor secretary and Warren’s bid for treasury. Biden also must be careful about promoting House members, as the Democratic majority has narrowed to four seats in the House, with two races remaining to be decided.
Biden has decided on Xavier Becerra, the progressive Democratic attorney general of California, as secretary of health and human services. Becerra has been a leader of the 20 states and D.C. who are trying to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by Republicans. As HHS secretary, Becerra will oversee the federal effort to acquire and distribute sufficient doses of COVID-19 vaccines to take care of the population, handle insurance coverage and cost issues and work to restore the ACA from years of undermining. The former congressman has also been vocal about fighting for women’s health and advocating for lower drug prices by use of “march-in rights” to effectively rescind exclusive patents for medicines whose research and development was funded by government agencies.
Becerra has been a supporter of Medicare for All, but he is expected to support Biden’s call for strengthening and preserving the ACA (and possibly reducing the age of eligibility for Medicare). Frankly, progressives are unlikely to have the votes to get Medicare for All passed in the House, much less the Senate, even if Vice President Kamala Harris is available for the tie-breaking vote. Democrats will need reinforcements in the 2022 election.
One of the Republican targets is likely to be Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice for Office of Management and Budget. Tanden is a moderate liberal who heads the Center for American Progress, but some on the left see her as too moderate, and her advocacy for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries grated on many Sanders supporters. She also has made snarky tweets during the Trump years that have riled some thin-skinned Republican senators.
Former neocon Max Boot wrote in the Washington Post Nov. 24 that, after the past four years, “it was a disorienting experience to read the rundown of President-elect Joe Biden’s selections for senior national security posts. Where, I wondered, were the unqualified businessmen? The grifters with the FBI hot on their tails? The Twitter trolls? The fanatics? The sycophants? The relatives of the president?”
Even though Trump is still spouting lies about vote fraud, he’s on his way out and it’s good to look forward to waking up in the morning without worrying what the president had done overnight.
There is room for optimism with the new administration. Biden started out as a moderate liberal who often moved to the middle to work toward bipartisan proposals during his 36 years in he Senate, but VoteView, a database at UCLA that tracks roll-call votes on an ideological map, rated Biden 75% liberal over 18 congressional sessions, which made him the 25th most liberal senator during that period. He was in the middle of the Democratic caucus. While he was never the socialist that Republicans tagged him, neither was he the corporatist that leftists called him, as Biden had an 86% positive lifetime score with the AFL-CIO through 2008, when he was elected vice president.
We believe Biden will to listen to progressive advocates and he is capable of promoting populist policies. His work is cut out for him to fix the damage Trump has wreaked in the past four years — including the sabotage Trump and his enablers have done since the election to wreck the economy and make the nation ungovernable. Electing the two Democrats in the Senate runoffs in Georgia would make Biden’s job easier and make progressive action at least conceivable. If Mitch McConnell is still the Senate majority leader when Biden is sworn in, it won’t be good news for anybody left of center (including those who work for a living but have been conned into believing that the Trumpublicans care what happens to them). — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2021
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