Biden Transition Team Suggests Balancing Act Between Centrists, Far Left

September 16, 2020 Updated: September 17, 2020

Joe Biden’s transition team and its newly expanded 15-person advisory board are filled with Obama administration alumni. His former rivals also have roles of influence. The policy positions of these people may give some insight into the Democratic presidential nominee’s plans.

A look into the backgrounds of the people shows that Biden has assembled a mix of liberal and moderate members. Some of the people Biden has promised to give Cabinet positions to, such as former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, have had more radical policy stances.

Transition teams help to lay the groundwork of a nominee’s potential future platform by building policy agendas, researching information about federal agencies, vetting possible future political appointees, and developing a management agenda, according to the Center for Presidential Transition.

Jeffrey Zients, a key economic adviser to President Barack Obama, was recently added as one of the co-chairs of the transition team. Nearly eight in 10 registered voters say the economy will be a “very important” factor in who they would vote for.

Zients, who served as director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy under Obama, was recently targeted by progressives and Wall-Street critics for having too many corporate ties. His record, which includes credit for saving Obama’s controversial health care website, also includes him pushing tax breaks for the poor. A Biden spokesperson emphasized to Bloomberg Zients’s expertise in management.

Another new co-chair added to the transition team is Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.). Richmond is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a congressional caucus filled with centrist Democrats that its website says are “committed to pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible policies.”

Richmond also serves as the national co-chairman of the Biden campaign. In an interview with The New York Times, he said people put too much emphasis on getting millionaires to improve everybody’s else life, instead of talking to “that regular mom that is struggling.”

The transition team also includes Julie Siegel, who was senior counsel for economic policy for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Siegel has endorsed Warren’s so-called “wealth tax” and also “backed [progressives’] plan to take on private equity and #StopWallStreetLooting,” according to The Investigative Research Center. 

Anita Dunn, recently added as co-chair of the transition team, meanwhile has made controversial comments in the past. Dunn, who is a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, referred in 2009 to Chinese communist dictator Mao Zedong as one of her “favorite political philosophers.” Dunn has said her comment was meant to be ironic.

Former U.S. senator for Delaware Ted Kaufman, who is head of the transition team, told The Wall Street Journal in August, “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit … forget about COVID-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.”

Kaufman also has progressive support. Jeff Hauser, an executive director at the Revolving Door Project, a liberal group, said on Twitter that Kaufman “has an excellent reputation as a committed opponent of Wall Street banksters and financial fraudsters more generally from his two years in the Senate.”

One member of the advisory board is Felicia Wong, president of the Roosevelt Institute, a New York-based think tank that says it “promotes a bold economic and political vision capable of bringing the ideals of Franklin and Eleanor into the 21st century.” Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt has left a legacy of big government.

Wong is also the co-author of “The Hidden Rules of Race: Barriers to an Inclusive Economy.”

One study found that Biden’s tax and spending policies over the next decade would add nearly $2 trillion to the federal deficit, according to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a research project of the University of Pennsylvania.

On gun control, the former vice president has previously promised to give O’Rourke a leading position in his administration, although the exact position has yet to be specified. 

“I want to make something clear, I’m going to guarantee you this is not the last you’ve seen of him,” Biden said during a rally in March when O’Rourke officially endorsed him after dropping out of the race. “You’re going to take care of the gun problem with me. You’re going to be the one who leads this effort.”

O’Rourke has endorsed confiscating guns, though he has also said that such a plan wouldn’t require police officers going “door to door.” He also backed a controversial mandatory gun buyback program last year. O’Rourke’s policy plans on gun control went further than those of his opponents. 

“We’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said during the third Democratic primary debate last year. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.” 

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was added as co-chair to the transition team, served as secretary of health of New Mexico from 2004 to 2007 and had been added on a shortlist for Biden’s vice presidential pick. 

Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and himself a former presidential candidate, serves on the 15-person advisory board to Biden’s transition team. On health care, Buttigieg has called for virtually no limits on abortion. While he opposes Medicare for All, he had realized a plan titled “Medicare for All Who Want It” that would lead to universal health coverage while cutting costs.

Other people with health care backgrounds on the advisory board include Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, who served as U.S. surgeon general during the Obama administration. One of the areas of focus during his tenure, according to his page, was promoting vaccinations, noting that they partnered with the Muppet character Elmo “in a popular video that demystifies vaccines for parents and children.”

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