President-elect Joe Biden has deep ties to the Washington, D.C. establishment after 44 years in the Senate and as vice president. He has advocated policies that he said will reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests.
The Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations both had policies against hiring lobbyists, but both presidents made exceptions to their own rules.
The Biden administration hasn’t said that it will exclude registered lobbyists. The president-elect has named at least 40 current and former registered lobbyists to his transition team, Wall Street Journal reported.
“Public servants serve all Americans, not themselves or narrow special interests,” Biden’s transition team said in a statement.
Based on Biden’s actions so far, here are 12 things to know about his administration turning into a swamp dream.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s pick for national security adviser, served as deputy national security adviser to Biden when the president-elect was Barack Obama’s vice president. Until recently, Sullivan was a partner at Macro Advisory Partners, described by American Prospect as one of the biggest and most opaque global consultancies. Its clients include mining companies in developing countries, sovereign wealth funds and Uber.
Before that, Sullivan worked as a strategist on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Sullivan represented Uber in 2020 against labor unions that wanted to give new protections to gig workers such as minimum wage and unemployment benefits. He negotiated with the unions behind the scenes to try and help Uber avoid giving benefits to drivers.
Sullivan is Biden’s policy gatekeeper, directing hundreds of experts who develop Biden’s policy ideas, according to American Prospect.
“Jake Sullivan’s work at Macro Advisory Partners should be disqualifying from service in a Democratic administration,” said an adviser to the Biden campaign, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution. “We don’t need a tool of hedge funds and mining companies in the White House.”
A number of Washington consulting firms — such as WestExec Advisors and the Albright Stonebridge Group, the “commercial diplomacy firm” started by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — are staffed by former diplomats, military officers and former White House aides, Politico reported.
These firms often “serve as the government in waiting for the party that’s out of power,” according to Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a Washington good government group.
To avoid stringent disclosure requirements for registered lobbyists, these firms avoid directly advocating for federal dollars on behalf of their clients.
“They avoid becoming registered lobbyists or foreign agents and are instead becoming strategic consultants,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight.
That means they don’t have to publicly divulge who is paying them for what. It’s impossible to know what influence they have on federal expenditures.
Biden’s appointees have to disclose their most recent clients once they go into government, but not older ones, according to Politico.
There’s nothing wrong with people who work at such firms going into the administration, McGehee said. However, potential Biden Cabinet picks who’ve worked at such firms should go further than the law requires by publicly disclosing any clients for whom they’ve done significant work, she said.
Biden picked Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Black woman who held a top diplomatic post in the Obama administration, as his U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Thomas-Greenfield is one of the most high-profile black women U.S. diplomats. She worked for years on African affairs, serving from 2013 to 2017 as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and leading U.S. policy on sub-Saharan Africa during the Ebola outbreak, Reuters reported. After leaving the State Department, Thomas-Greenfield went to work in a senior leadership position at former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s global strategy company, Albright Stonebridge Group. She is now on leave from the company.
Choosing experienced D.C. veterans as foreign policy insiders marks “a break with Trump’s war on the so-called “deep state” — individuals in government he regarded as working against his own agenda,” BBC reported.
“As a longtime foreign service officer, Mrs Thomas-Greenfield in particular, represents the ‘deep state’ that Donald Trump was so dismissive of, “said Charles Kupchan, a former member of the White House National Security Council. “For Donald Trump, foreign service officers were the foot soldiers of the liberal internationalism that he wanted to take down.”
Biden’s agency review teams also include at least three other Albright Stonebridge staffers, Politico reported.
It is common for aides of both Democratic and Republican elected officials to leave their government jobs for higher-paying work as corporate lobbyists. But the “revolving door” can be tricky for Democrats, Wall Street Journal reported.
Democratic aides who become corporate lobbyists sometimes face a conflict between the business interests they are paid to represent and the Democratic officials who once employed them.
GOP aides who become lobbyists usually work with Republican lawmakers and executive-branch officials to roll back government regulations, reduce taxes and generally advance the interests of American corporations.
Former Federal Reserve chiefs can earn the equivalent of an annual salary in a single paid appearance. They’re free to express their opinions provided they don’t speak about confidential matters. Those insights could potentially move markets, CNBC reported.
Janet Yellen, former Federal Reserve Chairwoman, is Biden’s pick for the next Treasury secretary.
In her first speaking engagement two months after leaving the Fed — she ran it for four years until February 2018 — Yellen discussed the economy and interest rates at an event hosted by investment bank Jefferies that included a sit-down dinner for 40.
She told Jefferies clients that in her view, three or four rate rises were likely that year (2018).
The role of lobbyists, consultants and corporate executives in the incoming Biden administration is producing a clash between progressive Democrats and “the more establishment members” of Biden’s core team, New York Times reported.
In a letter sent days after the election, liberal groups asked Biden not to “nominate or hire corporate executives, lobbyists, and prominent corporate consultants.”
Biden’s team included executives from Amazon, Lyft, Airbnb and a vice president of WestExec Advisors, the D.C. consulting firm whose secretive list of clients includes financial services, tech and pharmaceutical companies, NYT reported.
“This puts us at a state of high alarm,” said Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving Door Project, a group that wants the Biden administration to stay away from lobbyists and business veterans whom Hauser and other activists refer to as “corporatists.”
Obama did not allow officials in his administration to work on issues they had lobbied for or against in the previous two years. Progressive activists want Biden to be even stricter.
The Biden transition team appointed Michael McCabe to its agency review team at the Environmental Protection Agency. McCabe served as Biden’s communications and projects director from 1987 and 1995 and as deputy administrator of the EPA during the Clinton administration.
Then McCabe went to work for the chemical company DuPont as a consultant on communication strategy when it was fighting regulations of a toxic chemical known as C8. The chemical is used in waterproof clothes, stain-resistant textiles, food packaging and non-stick pans. It has been linked to cancer, liver damage and lowered fertility, according to the Guardian.
“To quote the Who: meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” environmental advocate Erin Brockovich wrote in an opinion piece for Guardian. Brokovich became a household name after the film “Erin Brockovich” was released in 2000. It told the story of her work building a pollution case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in 1993. Brokovich succeeded despite her lack of education in the law.
McCabe’s relationships with former colleagues in government helped him skillfully and successfully navigate DuPont around efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to set binding limits on the chemical, The Intercept reported.
Biden’s team has signaled to congressional and corporate leaders that incoming White House advisor Steve Ricchetti will be a point of contact in the new administration, CNBC reported.
A longtime Biden confidant, Ricchetti served as the Biden campaign chairman and was recently named counselor to the president. Lawmakers and business leaders who want to make inroads with the new administration will liaise with Ricchetti, according to people briefed on the matter.
Ricchetti will work with Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., who has been chosen to direct the White House Office of Public Engagement as the lead business liaison for Biden’s administration.
Progressive groups have been critical of Ricchetti, who was also once a lobbyist. Ricchetti hasn’t lobbied since before Biden became vice president in 2009, Fox News reported. But he worked for years before that as a registered lobbyist, forming a company with his brother Jeff called Ricchetti Inc. in 2001. Their client list included General Motors, Pfizer and Eli Lilly.
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Ricchetti’s brother Jeff is still a lobbyist and recently began representing pharmaceutical companies Horizon Therapeutics and GlaxoSmithKline while Biden was campaigning for president, according to lobbying disclosure reports.
Richetti Inc. made about $365,000 in lobbying income in Q1 and Q2 of 2020, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Fox reported.
That raises ethics concerns, said Delaney Marsco, an ethics expert at the Campaign Legal Center, in Fox interview.
For example, if Biden makes good on his campaign promise to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, it would be reasonable to expect that Ricchetti could potentially recuse himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Marsco said.
“The lobbying firm started by JOE BIDEN’s campaign chairman STEVE RICCHETTI signed 3 new clients this week, including 2 pharmaceutical firms & an electronics manufacturer,” New York Times reporter Kenneth P. Vogel tweeted on Sept. 16.
Biden’s ethics rules don’t impose a blanket ban on lobbyists, but they require people registered as lobbyists or who were registered as lobbyists within the past year, to get approval from the transition’s general counsel to serve on the team.
Five people on the teams are currently registered as lobbyists or were registered within the last year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
A Biden transition official said all five received waivers to serve on the agency review teams.
President-elect Biden has chosen former senior Obama climate aide Brian Deese as director of the National Economic Council, a post that does not require Senate confirmation. Deese will lead the implementation of Biden’s economic agenda, focusing on rebuilding the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated U.S. businesses and cost millions of workers their jobs, Washington Post reported.
During the Obama administration, Deese helped craft the Paris climate deal. The NEC could be influential in steering climate policy in the Biden era, especially as the new administration “plans a broad approach that goes well beyond agencies like EPA and Interior,” Axios reported.
During the Trump years, Deese led sustainable investing for BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager. That gig makes him controversial among progressives, Axios reported. Some groups argue that Deese’s work with BlackRock, which has big holdings in fossil fuel, should disqualify him despite the company’s increased focus on climate.
Activists with groups including the Sunrise Movement’s New York chapter staged a demonstration last week outside BlackRock offices.
However, Deese has supporters among climate advocates including people with establishment green groups who have spoken on his behalf.
Prominent progressive activist Bill McKibben defended Deese’s commitment in a widely circulated Twitter thread.
President-elect Biden’s transition team announced it has nominated Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the think tank Center for American Progress, as head the Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed, Tanden will be the first woman of color to oversee the OMB.
Tanden has faced the most pushback of potential candidates so far, Vanity Fair reported. As president of the liberal Center for American Progress, she is considered an enemy by Republicans.
Tanden is a “sacrifice to the confirmation gods,” former Mitch McConnell chief of staff Josh Holmes tweeted.
“Neera Tanden, who has an endless stream of disparaging comments about the Republican Senators’ whose votes she’ll need, stands zero chance of being confirmed,” Drew Brandewie, spokesman for Texas Senator John Cornyn, tweeted.
Progressive members of the Democratic party have also openly opposed Tanden, whose relationship with the Bernie Sanders sector was occasionally seen to be as hostile as her relationship with Republicans, according to Vanity Fair.
Tanden has been criticized for her leadership style, Business Insider reported. A former colleague tweeted that she lacked “leadership and moral courage.” In 2018, colleagues said she was “impossible to trust” after she named a victim of sexual harassment in a company meeting, BuzzFeed reported at the time.
As a prominent Hillary Clinton surrogate in 2016, Tanden is no stranger to misogyny in politics.
“Gender biases have been apparent in 2020 too,” Vox reported. “Throughout the primary, women candidates have been scrutinized for their likability, trustworthiness, and qualifications in ways that men simply haven’t been.”
“Women candidates have all faced difficult challenges,” Tanden said.