From the laudably bold COVID relief package to the unforced error of resisting executive action to forgive crushing student loan debt, there is a direct through-line from the personnel that President Biden has surrounded himself with and the quality of his resulting policy moves.
As we, and many others, have stressed for years, “personnel is policy.” The nominations that President Biden has made thus far serve as a guidebook to the years ahead. By analyzing those picks, we see a vivid picture of where we can expect strong executive actions to take on the corporate monopolies and polluters choking the American economy—and where we can anticipate division between the progressive base and corporatist establishment actors.
Progressives mobilized in historic fashion to build out the infrastructure that could ensure more attention was paid to presidential appointments after the 2020 election than was the case in 2008 or 1992. This effort has borne some promising early results.
President Biden’s transition process provided some indications, from the beginning, that this would be a fundamentally different type of transition than what we saw in 1992, 2008, or what would likely have manifested with a Hillary Clinton win in 2016. Biden put Ted Kaufman, an advocate for breaking up Wall Street banks while in the Senate, in charge of his transition effort. Contrast this with 2008, when Citigroup executive Michael Froman filled much of President Obama’s economic team with Wall Street insiders while he was still on the bank’s payroll—or Clinton’s transition team, which was chaired by fracking advocate Ken Salazar.
Engagement with the supporters of further left primary rivals like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—and indications that efforts like the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Forces were genuine consultations rather than empty symbolic gestures—revealed that the progressive wing of the party would have a seat at the table. Equally important, the new Administration made clear before the results of the Senate runoff elections in Georgia came in that it would not allow Republican obstructionism to turn Mitch McConnell into the White House’s de facto hiring director. President Biden indicated a willingness to install acting officials under the Vacancies Act, if necessary, and Senator Chuck Schumer suggested that he was prepared to create the conditions for recess appointments, even if the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate makes it unlikely these hardball tactics will be required at least for Biden’s first two years.
Grassroots activists were primed to engage on personnel after fights late in the Obama Administration to keep Larry Summers out of the Federal Reserve, sink Antonio Weiss’s nomination to the number three role at the Treasury Department, and block corporate lawyers from a key opening at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Their effectiveness was further honed in the historic popular mobilization against Donald Trump’s horrifying Cabinet selections and successful pressure on then-Senate Minority Leader Schumer to fill minority party seats at the Federal Trade Commission and SEC with bold public interest regulators. Our coalition sent a steady drumbeat of signals that we were ready to deploy these tactics again in 2021 to block revolving door personnel—and progressive senators were prepared to vote down harmful nominees if the Biden transition took the wrong direction.
The Biden Administration’s response to the health and economic crises of the COVID-19 pandemic show that progressive agitation around appointments has delivered some tangible differences in the Democratic approach to governance.
Economic Relief and Recovery: Rising Confidence
A popular incoming Democratic President inherits an economy in shambles from a disastrous Republican President who took office despite receiving fewer votes than his opponent and whose Administration lied its way into cataclysmic policy blunders. At first, 2021 sounds like a rerun of 2009.
Yet the Democratic Administration’s response is anything but.
President Biden’s team is aggressively pressing for a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, in stark contrast to the “go small” mentality of President Obama’s advisers in 2009. Despite an economy in absolute free fall, Obama’s team shrank their stimulus bill below $1 trillion in a self-conscious attempt to avoid “sticker shock,” then pivoted to a deficit-reduction obsession when economic indicators showed this was precisely the wrong move. This resulted in a slowed economic recovery, exacerbated inequality, as well as a recession that hadn’t yet abated for much of the population prior even to the ensuing COVID crisis.
The composition of Biden’s economic team proximately accounts for much of the difference in response. Nearly every position is filled with someone who is a dramatic improvement over their Obama Administration counterpart. Janet Yellen, who has spent much of her career studying how best to reduce unemployment, leads the Treasury Department, as opposed to Tim Geithner, a protégé of bankers Robert Rubin and Pete Peterson and someone who, during the Obama Administration, made policy decisions “through the prism of what Citigroup needed,” according to a fellow regulator. Chief of staff Ron Klain is a substantial improvement over Rahm Emmanuel, who openly antagonized the left as he steered the Democratic Party into historic losses in the 2010 election.
Meanwhile, Larry Summers—who was omnipresent as National Economic Council director during the Obama Administration—is now relegated to attacking the size of the COVID relief package from outside of the government. His perspective is reportedly being soundly ignored inside the White House. The current National Economic Council director, Brian Deese, has thus far performed significantly better. Progressives have rightful concerns about Deese’s revolving-door move to a “greenwashing” role at financial behemoth BlackRock after his senior staff role during Obama’s efforts at a fiscal “Grand Bargain” with John Boehner et al. However,in office again,Deese has been responsive to economic populist concerns when crafting the COVID relief bill. He has also seemingly declined to engage in the destructive tendency of the Obama Administration to “negotiate with itself” and propose a half-measure in anticipation of Republican opposition, only to see unchanged scorched-earth GOP hostility to anything proposed by a Democratic President.
The advisors brought on by these figures have also been encouraging. Deese brought in former CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English as the NEC’s chief of staff and Elizabeth Warren aide Bharat Ramamurti as its deputy director. Another Warren alum, Julie Siegel, has taken a high-ranking post at the Treasury Department under Secretary Yellen. And President Biden put together a fantastic team of progressive economists at the Council of Economic Advisers.
Yet it remains concerning that a corporate behemoth like BlackRock is able to serve as a holding pen for Administration aides between Democratic presidencies. Will BlackRock continue to evade federal designation as a “systemically important” financial institution, which would subject it to much greater regulation? If such business imperatives drove BlackRock’s big investments in building out a shadow “government in waiting” in the first place, as some suggest, that would be a disturbingly effective example of purchasing policy results. The news that Secretary Yellen took in millions of dollars in fees for paid speeches to banks and other large corporations is similarly problematic.
Potential nominees who were wisely avoided for the Treasury role include Wall Street executive and Big Tech board director Roger Ferguson and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. Raimondo’s record of selling out state pensioners to Wall Street hedge funds and creating a disastrously ineffective technological system for administering Medicaid and other government benefits bespeak neither competence nor strong values. Consider, too, Rhode Island’s COVID case rate—easily the worst on the East Coast or in a blue state throughout the crisis—as well as its notable delay in rolling out vaccines to seniors, another national record for inadequate pandemic response. In the midst of these failures, Raimondo also issued a 50 percent cut to emergency aid to the state’s poorest cities. Therefore, the mere fact that she was seriously considered for Treasury, nearly chosen as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and was eventually (somewhat less catastrophically) selected for Commerce Secretary makes it clear that certain retrograde views still hold substantial sway within the Biden camp.
The whiplash-inducing shift at HHS from the Raimondo near-miss to the hopeful Xavier Becerra pick further evinces the transition’s dueling corporatist and progressive impulses. Becerra has backed Medicare for All and the use of “march-in rights” to seize patents for pharmaceutical drugs made with federal support, thereby drastically lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
Biden has, auspiciously, chosen Representative Marcia Fudge to serve at Housing and Urban Development, where one hopes she will steer the agency toward fulfilling its mission of creation affordable housing provisions. HUD, and the ostensible beneficiaries of its work, suffered not just under Ben Carson’s ignominious stewardship, but also under the Obama Administration, when the department was part of an Administration-wide failure to address the post-2008 housing crisis—infamously using a program meant to help distressed homeowners to sell houses to Wall Street instead, and at a bargain. Fudge has sent early signals that she is ready to push for expanded funding for housing aid and will prioritize both gender and racial equity in housing. In Congress, she has focused on support for low-income and poor families, primarily focusing on health, education, and expanded employment opportunities (including a jobs guarantee pilot).
Biden’s personnel choices to date across financial regulation, climate action, and labor rights have included more clear-cut victories for the progressive movement. But trouble might be waiting in the wings even in these areas, with enablers of Wall Street, fossil fuel interests, and multinational corporations angling toward positions that remain unfilled.
Financial Watchdogs: Mixed Signals
The number of former Citigroup officials in the Obama Administration led Politico in 2014 to call Washington the “Citi on the Potomac” and Senator Warren to take to the Senate floor to spotlight how cronyism explains why Citigroup’s “grip over economic policymaking in the executive branch is unprecedented.” It is a welcome reversal to see banking and financial market regulators stand out as among President Biden’s strongest personnel decisions to date.
Biden’s nominee for CFPB director is Rohit Chopra, who has spent the last two years charting a new path for consumer protection and competition as a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission. He demonstrated his aptitude by reorienting and enlivening that agency, digging up dormant regulatory powers, engaging the public, and focusing scrutiny on big companies that cause the most harm rather than small-time scammers that make for easy cases.
Gary Gensler is likely to play a similarly commendable role at the Securities and Exchange Commission. He was one of the very best regulators during the Obama Administration, turning the backwater Commodity Futures Trading Commission into a bold and aggressive watchdog of the types of swaps and derivatives that brought down the economy during the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. His policy and enforcement approaches will likely stand in stark contrast to those of the most recent Democratic SEC Chair, Mary Jo White—a conflicted Wall Street lawyer whose reluctance to implement Dodd-Frank or otherwise crack down on the banks led staff to call the agency “paralyzed” and to brand White’s office as “the cheese cellar,” because it was where rulemaking proposals were left to sit, and age.
Biden is said to be considering handing over the Office of Comptroller of the Currency and CFTC to FinTech boosters Michael Barr and Chris Brummer. The worst thing President Biden could do now is squander this progress by filling additional financial posts with regulators who will turn a blind eye to the risks of FinTech firms or dealers of volatile crypto-assets. These companies are clamoring to get access to the funds of ordinary investors and retirement savers. Without safeguards in place, there is little protecting savers’ money from evaporating. Donald Trump’s outgoing head of the OCC has damned Barr with recent praise, citing his general regulatory philosophy and his ties to FinTech. If Biden truly wants to turn the page on the deregulatory Trump approach, this praise should be a disqualifier.
What these agencies need are leaders who will prioritize equitable access to financial services using public options like postal banking or a proposed FedCoin, rulemaking under the anti-discrimination Community Reinvestment Act, and strong enforcement against bad actors. With authority over banking charters and access to federal deposit insurance, the OCC and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation hold powerful tools to compel compliance with legal requirements regarding racial equity and fair treatment of consumers. Leaders of these agencies should not shy away from using these powers.
President Biden’s recent professed opposition to using executive authority to cancel $50,000 of federal student loan debt per borrower was a profound disappointment. The Department also retained Betsy DeVos’s head of the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) into March while continuing—along with the Justice Department’s Civil Division—to defend Trump Administration litigation positions against challenges from students. It’s time for President Biden to install a reformer to run FSA. Biden should build out the Department in the mold of people like Julie Margetta Morgan, a longstanding advocate for student debtors who is now a senior advisor there. Biden would burnish his legacy by empowering those who have thoroughly studied how the Department might unburden a generation of borrowers.
A Sea Change on Climate
Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s selection to be Secretary of the Interior marks a fundamental shift in the Democratic Party. Her nomination was rightfully celebrated as a milestone, with Haaland now the first ever Native American Cabinet member. This selection also demonstrated how far Democratic presidents have come on the issue of climate change.
Following Democratic appointees who advanced a so-called “all of the above” strategy to increase the burning of fossil fuels—despite the scientific consensus that combating climate change requires a rapid rampdown in the carbon pollution emitted by fossil energy—Haaland has stated she is “wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands.” Before running for office, she stood with protesters fighting the Dakota Access oil pipeline and, in Congress, she opposed all new fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s little surprise that she enjoyed the support of an energetic campaign from environmental justice and climate action advocates. With Haaland in place, John Kerry filling a new, Cabinet-level climate position, and former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy coordinating domestic policy from the White House alongside her chief of staff Maggie Thomas, it is easy to forget the level of influence the fossil fuel lobby wielded within past Democratic administrations.
Just a listing of some of the former executive branch officials kept out of the Biden Administration (at least so far) tells the story: Fossil fuel industry-funded fracking advocate Jason Bordoff, former White House liaison to oil and gas interests Heather Zichal, natural gas and fracking defender Ernest Moniz, and fossil fuel consultant David Goldwyn all held senior roles in one or both of the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Combating climate change is a whole-of-government task. Agitation from the left had a clear impact on the Federal Reserve’s steps toward taking the financial risks of climate change seriously while Fed member Lael Brainard maneuvered toward a would-be bid for Treasury. It might also be credited with Secretary Janet Yellen’s move to create a senior climate post within the Treasury Department.
The fossil fuel industry is still desperate to claw its way inside the Biden Administration. Counselor to the President Steve Ricchetti, the founder of a high-powered corporate lobbying firm, could create a problematic opening for fossil fuel influence absent continued scrutiny. Tom Vilsack’s friendliness toward corporate conglomerates and poor record of supporting Black farmers in his prior stint as Secretary of Agriculture generated widespread concern—but happily, Vilsack has taken meaningful steps to acknowledge and respond to critiques on issues of race, climate, and “Big Ag” consolidation. That’s especially important as hisre-elevation came at the expense of Marcia Fudge, progressives’ consensus choice.
Labor and Trade: No Major Grievances
Workers’ rights present a similar story to climate. It seems this Administration will finally break the old trend of naming union lawyers to the National Labor Relations Board yet still undermining labor’s priorities in secretive global trade deals. The United States Trade Representative’s ill-advised push in 2015 and 2016 to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal arguably opened the door for Donald Trump to cut into Democrats’ historic union support. (A more competent Republican 2020 campaign might have made this a politically painful issue once again.)
Biden changed course by turning to progressives’ choice for USTR head, Katherine Tai. She not only has promised “worker-centered” trade policy at USTR moving forward, but also managed to help insert pro-labor policies into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement signed by Donald Trump—standards she will now be responsible for enforcing. Stopping Big Tech lobbyists from being slotted into deputy roles underneath Tai will be key to ensuring she is not undermined from within. Labor Secretary nominee Marty Walsh has a track record on workers’ rights that befits a union worker who rose through the ranks to lead the Boston Building Trades before becoming mayor of Boston. The number two at Labor will be Julie Su, who gained a sharp reputation as she “battled with major corporations” as California’s labor secretary and was pushed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
We also applaud President Biden’s assertiveness in firing Trump’s notoriously anti-union NLRB general counsel Peter Robb on the first day of the Biden presidency and replacing him with CWA lawyer Jennifer Abruzzo. That is exactly the type of boldness needed to root out the Trump holdovers. Their ability to satisfy the loyalty tests of a President who purged those who failed to demonstrate personal allegiance is disqualifying in itself.
Breaking Up With Corporate Monopolists
The possibility that Biden will contest corporate predations risks being undermined if the Department of Justice is staffed up with Clinton- and Obama-era officials who went on to seek riches in Big Law or Silicon Valley between administrations. Rather, the deeply held centrist views and disposition of Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland should be paired with more aggressively progressive deputies.
One key area is the DOJ’s antitrust function. During his confirmation hearing, Garland made the erroneous but revealing suggestion that it was unavoidable to have lawyers from the payroll of large corporate monopolies lead the DOJ Antitrust Division—because “we can’t exclude every single good lawyer from being able to be in the division.” Beyond the insult to talented career government lawyers at the federal and state levels (among other brilliant lawyers who happen not to work for Facebook or Google), this statement portrays a concerning view of corporate power.
The divide between the interests of large tech monopolies like Amazon and Facebook and the public good could not be clearer than it has been during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their profits have surged even as the economy has teetered on the edge of collapse, millions of Americans have struggled to stay afloat, and small businesses have gone under by the tens of thousands. States and federal agencies have finally brought antitrust enforcement actions against Facebook and Google to prevent them from abusing their market power and block (or even unwind) unlawful moves to buy or bury potential rivals.
It is appalling, then, to imagine these groundbreaking lawsuits being taken over by officials formerly paid to defend the monopolists. Until Garland’s confirmation hearing, the rumored leading candidate to run the Antitrust Division was Susan Davies, who now seems destined for a senior role in the Department’s front office. Davies’s legal work at conservative mega-firm Kirkland & Ellis included defending Facebookagainstantitrust litigation. Her work in the early Obama White House Counsel’s office is a similar red flag. She held the primary responsibility for identifying potential federal judges for nomination, a process that resulted in 70 percent of judges nominated during the early Obama years having a primarily corporate background, compared to just 4 percent drawn from public interest careers. Former Facebook regulatory lawyer Jessica Hertz has also taken over a key gatekeeper role within the White House, where she will control the memos and information that make their way to the President’s eyes.
A corporate-friendly Antitrust Division would not be an isolated case in the Biden DOJ. Already, an alum of corporate Big Law, Brian Boynton, has been named as acting head of the Department’s Civil Division—a critical position for defending all manner of regulations against industry attack. Emily Loeb has leveled up from obstructing the House Antitrust Subcommittee’s investigation of dominant online platforms on behalf of Apple to becoming associate deputy attorney general. While the Civil Rights Division has seen more promising appointees, a strong team covering civil rights should be a baseline assumption for any Democratic Administration and has been for decades. This provides no excuse for leaving the rest of the Department in corporatist hands.
The Biden Administration must also prioritize several other agencies with jurisdiction over corporate power, where rumors are swirling about potential nominees. As the FTC increasingly confronts the power of Big Tech—having just sued to break up Facebook—two open seats will need to be filled. It is critical to install strong progressives who can respectively bring expertise to the agency’s consumer protection and antitrust mandates and will keep the agency on a trajectory of increased enforcement and consideration of new rulemaking.
The Federal Communications Commission is another powerful independent agency where Biden must overcome the bipartisan tendency to enable industry capture. Indeed, there are literally more than three dozen independent agencies which our organizations monitor closely, and it will be key for Biden and Schumer to process nominations expeditiously. And while less dramatic than the need for filibuster reform, Schumer and the Democrats must reform Senate floor time requirements rather than allow unusually obstructionist Republicans to pit nominations against each other.
Those progressives who are distributed throughout the government also need a strong coordinating force. That unfilled role is the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, nicknamed “the most important office you’ve never heard of.” That post can tie up regulation throughout the federal government in tangles of red tape, like it did under Cass Sunstein from 2009 to 2012. We’re glad to see that the office thus far remains free of Sunstein’s protégés as well, like his former deputy Michael Fitzpatrick, who opened the regulatory process to greater corporate influence.
It is also promising that Biden issued a Day One order repudiating the Sunstein approach to regulation and installed Sharon Block of Harvard Law School as acting head of OIRA. Block wrote an American Prospectpiece endorsing structural reforms to transform the office from a killing field for promising regulations to a force that combats corporate capture across the Administration and promotes effective rulemaking. Until the head position is filled, the left cannot let up its scrutiny of this vital but little-known post.
National Security: Will They Offer An Olive Branch to Progressives?
President Biden’s foreign policy picks have mirrored his personal history on the subject, a story of competing impulses. After serving as an outspoken proponent of the war in Iraq during the early 2000s, Biden emerged as the most prominent internal voice of restraint in an Obama White House that included many advisors with interventionist impulses. He opposed the surge of more troops into Afghanistan and military action in Libya.
We had remained optimistic that relative restraint would govern the Biden national security posture, but the recent airstrikes in Syria are an inauspicious attack not just on foreign soil, but also on Congress’s legal authority over war-making. A refusal to punish Mohammed bin Salman for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the halting pace of any progress toward detente with Iran are unsettling signs about the enthusiasm with which the Biden national security team will meet relatively progressive campaign trail promises—such as to not normalize relations with the Saudi regime, to rejoin the Iran Deal, and to more broadly promote national security policy that elevates human rights.
Consider Avril Haines, the new Director of National Intelligence. Perhaps it is hard to imagine a champion of civil liberties atop the nation’s spying apparatus, but her record stands out as alarming. While the deputy head of the CIA under Obama, Haines covered up evidence of the Bush-era torture program and refused to discipline agents who hacked into the computers of the Senate committee investigating CIA misconduct. She later vocally supported Donald Trump’s selection of Gina Haspel—who led a CIA black site in Thailand where detainees were tortured—for CIA director.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were proponents of the Iran Nuclear Deal and have admitted to some past blunders, for instance by coming around to opposing U.S. involvement in the calamitous war in Yemen—U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition there having been initiated in substantial part to appease Gulf opposition to American rapprochement with Iran. Whether because of genuine reconsideration or pressure from without, early moves to drop U.S. support for certain Saudi military operations in Yemen are commendable—yet the Biden team must do more to stave off the largest famine in modern history, such as by applying pressure to bring a swift end to the blockade of Hodeida, Yemen’s main port.
The pick of Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense at least fills that role with an expert in troop drawdowns, with someone who had the foresight to oppose U.S. intervention in Yemen from the start. This provided some grounds (diminished in light of last month’s airstrikes in Syria) for hope about Biden’s designs to end the so-called endless wars. Yet Austin has concerning ties with the military-industrial complex; that he sat on the board of arms-merchant Raytheon until he was confirmed offers cause for concern. But in securing the Defense nomination, Austin beat out a seemingly more hawkish and conflicted figure in Michèle Flournoy, who as late as 2019 had favored continued arms sales to the Saudi government as it committed atrocities in Yemen—even after the Democratic consensus shifted in favor of ceasing sales.
The widely reported corporate entanglements of Biden’s national security picks generally seem more pronounced than in other wings of the Administration. Blinken and Austin (and Flournoy) were lead partners of Pine Island Capital Partners, a defense and military investor which spun off a “blank check” company whose investment pitch argued that it would have access to “proprietary opportunities” obtained by their “deeply connected partner group” of former officials “capitalizing on their influential networks.” Similarly troubling is the role of WestExec Advisors, an opaque consulting firm and “administration-in-waiting” founded by Blinken and Flournoy. WestExec Advisors had also employed now-Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Press Secretary Jen Psaki and served corporations including Microsoft, the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, Uber, and JPMorgan Chase. Haines worked for the data-mining firm Palantir until she joined the Biden team last summer, when her affiliation with the company was removed from at least one public presentation of her biography.
One of President Biden’s more hopeful national security selections, at least in relative terms, was putting William Burns in charge of the CIA. In so doing, he passed over “torture apologist” Michael Morell and selected a longstanding diplomat who was responsible for starting the negotiations for the original Iran Nuclear Deal. Burns, however, is not without substantial corporate ties.
We hope that recent positive shifts in the United States posture on Yemen might augur a sincere evolution in views by Biden’s national security team and that the legally dubious airstrikes in Syria are not a sign of more of what’s to come. But this flouting of Congress’s authority, past errors in judgment by key officials with recent links to corporate interests, which traffic in ongoing warfare, leave us skeptical and watchful.
Toward a Transformational Presidency
A pandemic that has killed more than half a million Americans. An economic crisis that has left jobless claims worse than the most brutal week of the Great Recession for nearly 52 weeks running. A Republican Party and conservative coalition desperate to cling to power—and increasingly willing to do so through minoritarian rule.
Our country’s challenges are enormous. President Biden has inherited not just the opportunity but the obligation to undertake a transformative presidency that can pursue a path out of crisis and toward a fundamentally more just society. As we have stressed for years, alongside a swelling chorus of progressive voices, the key to an effective presidency is empowering civil servants with a proven commitment to the public interest and equal justice under law for all. Continuing the old, establishment status quo of prioritizing revolving door picks from increasingly monopolistic companies and corporate law firms only guarantees failure.
This approach will not just provide better policy outcomes. It’s better politics, too. Already, right-wing faux populist propagandists like Tucker Carlson have been salivating on live TV as they attack the more industry-tied members of the Administration as evidence of a “corporate takeover” of the government under Biden. Tony Blinken and WestExec’s work for Big Tech and pharma made him an easy target, as did Steve Ricchetti’s corporate lobbying. These lines of attack grow more credible and potent each time Biden substantiates them by naming another revolving door figure to a key post or dropping a policy initiative that would have helped everyday Americans.
As President Biden fills out the remainder of his Administration, he would be well-advised to consider the model of the President whose approach he is said to aspire to: Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR followed through on his pledge of a Cabinet “free of financial influence.” That commitment may have cleared the way for FDR’s history-making selection of Frances Perkins as his Secretary of Labor, the first woman to serve in a Cabinet position. Perkins proceeded to transform the nature of work and retirement in America. She was the “chief architect” of the New Deal and led the way to such foundational achievements as the minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, Social Security, and much more.
The next four or eight years can similarly change the course of American history. Yet the essential question is this: Will the strongest influences in the Administration be unapologetic leaders like Perkins, willing to pioneer new programs that become a part of the bedrock of the country’s social contract? Or will those sympathetic to moneyed elites win out, urging a go-slow, incrementalist approach? Biden’s bid to deliver an FDR-style presidency that is up to the crises of the current moment just might depend on it.