In the past few weeks Joe Biden has made important decisions that will shape what his presidency will look like. He has made cabinet appointments, named a transition team, and been advised by a group of national security experts. Biden’s picks give us a glimpse of the tone that this presidency is going to take. There was speculation that his cabinet would be a progressive one: Bernie Sanders even said that the Biden administration could be the most progressive since that of FDR. But now we have seen the first of Biden’s appointments, and we have some sense of what his administration will be like. And it is clear that the idea that he is preparing for some FDR-type New Deal was never based in fact.
Biden has made clear by his appointments so far that he is far more interested in the same neoliberal policies that have driven down living conditions for working people for the last forty years and that created the conditions for the rise of Trump and Trumpism than he is in progressive reforms like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, defunding the police, and forgiving student loans. Despite the hopes of many progressives, Biden’s cabinet and transition team is full of neoliberals, corporate lobbyists, CEOs, tech execs, Republican lawmakers, warmongers, and enablers of empire. Even still, there are some on the left who, letting their hopes cloud their vision, have characterized Biden’s appointments as progressive. But a closer interrogation suggests that his future cabinet will be anything but.
Biden’s appointments have also been touted as being more inclusive and diverse, including a higher percentage of women, people of color, and people who identify as LGBTQ+. But despite the emphasis on the diversity of Biden’s appointments, as Briahna Joy Gray points out, there is less emphasis on “whether or not these individuals represent the interests of the group they are assumed to represent because of what they look like.” What difference does it make if one of your immigration advisors is a Latina woman if she has a history of defending mass deportations and family separations?
With over four hundred people on his transition team and dozens of cabinet appointments, the list below is just a sampling of a few people from each respective team that represent larger trends of Wall Street, neoliberal, antilabor, and prowar appointees to Biden’s administration. In order for us to fight for necessary measures to improve the lives of millions of workers and save the planet amid a climate emergency we need to be honest about what we are up against.
Transition Team Immigration Advisor
Cecilia Muñoz: Muñoz is most known for her role in the mass deportation of immigrants. As Obama’s top immigration advisor Muñoz justified harsh immigration enforcement policies. She helped direct the Obama administration’s deportation of thousands of Central American children, its family separations, and its decision to terminate an executive order that would have halted deportations.
Secretary of State Nominee
Antony Blinken: Blinken is a former deputy secretary of state. Blinken has made a career of advocating disastrous wars abroad while helping Silicon Valley and finance capital profit off them. He supported the devastating invasion of Iraq when he was a top Senate aide to Biden from 2003 to 2004 and the 2011 invasion of Libya. He also advocated more aggressive military intervention against Syria. In more recent years Blinken has served as a consultant for corporations in the finance, technology, and arms industries. In 2017, for example, he cofounded WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm that aided Silicon Valley start-ups to land contracts at the Pentagon.
Chief of Staff
Ron Klain: Klain was Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president. Klain is a longtime venture capitalist, making money in the casino of finance capital.
Treasury Secretary Nominee
Janet Yellen: Yellen is a former chair of the Federal Reserve. Yellen has a long history of supporting free trade, which has had deleterious results for workers. Though some progressives like the Yellen pick, her technocratic market solutions have always favored free trade. Also, student debt was a key topic in the 2020 election cycle, but Yellen has not said that she will support forgiving student debt, something she could do as treasury secretary.
John Kerry: Kerry is a former secretary of state. He does not support the Green New Deal. He voted in 2002 to give George Bush the authority to use military force in Iraq, then doubled down on that vote in 2004. The war in Iraq was an environmental and climate disaster. It led to a spike in carbon dioxide emissions, and its use of toxic munitions led to widespread poisoning of the Iraqi environment and caused untold genetic damage among the Iraqi population. Kerry also supported US military intervention in Libya. Before, Libya had one of the highest living standards in Africa, but after the invasion Libya has become a failed state. During his time as a senator he consistently voted on the annual National Defense Authorization acts. The United States military is one of the biggest polluters on the planet: It consumes more hydrocarbons than 140 countries combined. It also emits more CO2e and consumes more liquid fuels than most countries. Kerry is known for leading US negotiations for the Paris Accords and for his climate change agenda called the World War Zero coalition. While the EU and other signatories to the Paris accords were pushing for legally binding measures to cut emissions, Kerry was key in pushing against the accords having legally binding measures. Any agreement that is not legally binding has no teeth and is wholly inadequate to solve the climate crisis we face. And even if they had been legally binding, the measures he advocated were inadequate to avoid the two degrees Celsius of warming that the IPCC called “catastrophic.” Additionally, both the Paris Accords and the World War Zero Coalition rely heavily on market-based solutions that have failed already.
Department of State Transition Team
Department of Labor Transition Team
Biden’s Department of Labor transition team is made up by the usual suspects who served under Obama (like team lead Chris Lu, as well as Patricia Smith, Seth Harris, Deborah Greenfield, Seema Nanda, Raj Nayak, Tanya Goldman) and the large national unions (Lynn Rhinehart, Jessica Chu, Shaun O’Brien). This can’t be seen as a marker of any progressive shift but rather a return to the Democrat playbook of winning commitment from labor while giving nothing in return, as during Obama’s eight years. Seth Harris is a good example of this.
Seth Harris: Harris is a lobbyist who worked for Dentons’ Public Policy and Regulations practice. Dentons’ has a lengthy history of antilabor litigation, including defending employers against wage-hour class actions, wrongful terminations, and individual claims of discrimination. Harris’s role at Dentons’ was to help businesses fight against regulations. In another assault on labor, Harris published a paper for the neoliberal Hamilton Project proposing the creation of a new legal category of workers called “independent workers,” which would make workers more easily exploitable by gig companies.
Department of Justice
Though peppered with a small handful of liberal law professors, NGOs, and one labor union (NEA), the majority of the Department of Justice transition team are corporate lawyers. There are also no progressive prosecutors and no public defenders. Two of the firms included represent Trump, including in his election challenges.
Matthew Axelrod works for a firm called Linklaters and specializes in defending corporations and executives from DOJ investigations and regulation violations.
Danielle Conley works for a firm called WilmerHale and specializes in defending corporations from litigation. She also has helped various firms and universities defend against sexual assault civil suits. She has been criticized by victims and advocates as assisting universities in avoiding blame for covering up instances of sexual violence.
Rajesh Dee was the general counsel for the National Security Agency under Obama and defended the NSA’s practices of warrantless wiretapping.
Shirleitha Franklin specializes in defending corporations against class action lawsuits due to corporate medical malpractice, defective design in automobiles, and mass chemical exposure. She works for the firm, Jones Day, that represented Big Tobacco and that was the White House counsel for Donald Trump from 2016 to 2017.
Neil MacBride is known for helping fossil fuel companies like Exxon get past environmental regulations and sanctions, drawing criticism from the Sunrise Movement.
Brian Nelson was chief advisor for Kamala Harris when she was California Attorney General and helped her with many of the items we listed in Kamala Harris’s History.
Head of the Office of Management and Budget
Neera Tanden: Biden named Tanden as the head of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden is the president and CEO of the neoliberal think tank Center for American Progress. Tanden is opposed to Medicare for All and has argued to make drastic cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Tanden once wrote in an email, “We have a deficit, they have a lot of oil,” suggesting that the United States take Libya’s oil as repayment for overthrowing their president. Tanden was also criticized for revealing the identity of an anonymous victim of sexual harassment in a company staff meeting. Tanden’s has also raised concerns for actions including physically assaulting staff member Faiz Shakir after he asked Hillary Clinton a question about the Iraq War and censuring writers in her organization for mentioning topics related to Palestine.
Office of Management and Budget Transition Team
Brandon Belford: Belford is an executive at Lyft, Inc. During his time at Lyft, the company fought alongside Uber to undermine US labor law. Lyft, along with other gig companies like Uber, spent tens of millions of dollars pushing for antilabor laws like Proposition 22, a California ballot measure that would override state law requiring gig economy companies to treat workers as employees. Biden said he opposed Proposition 22 yet named executives of a number of gig economy companies that pushed the hardest to pass it.
Intelligence “Community” Transition Team
Matt Olsen: Olsen comes from Uber technologies, the company leading the campaign for legislation like Proposition 22.
Environmental Protection Agency Transition Team
Michael McCabe: McCabe is a former Dupont Chemical executive. He worked as a consultant for Dupont Chemical during a time when they were fighting regulations on the chemical industry. McCabe led Dupont’s defense against the regulation of a chemical called C8, which has been linked to cancer, liver damage, and lowering fertility.
Pentagon Transition Team
Kathleen Hicks: Hicks is the Henry Kissinger Chair at warmongering think tank Center for Strategic International Studies. Hicks opens her podcast thanking its sponsors: weapons corporations BAE, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.
Hicks is not unique. Over one-third of Biden’s Pentagon transition team come from organizations, corporations, or think tanks that directly receive money from the weapons industry.
Head of White House Office of Public Engagement
Cedric Richmond: Richmond is one of the top Democratic recipients of fossil fuel industry money. He received around $341,000 from donors in the oil and gas industry during his ten-year tenure in Congress, the fifth highest among House Democrats. Richmond joined Republicans to vote to increase fossil-fuel exports and promote pipeline development. He also voted against placing pollution limits on fracking and voted for Republican legislation restraining federal fracking regulations.
Deputy Chief of Staff
Jennifer O’Malley Dillon: Dillon was the cofounder of a firm that represents Big Pharma and private equity firms.
Counselor to the President
Transition Advisory Board
Bob McDonald: former chairman, president, and CEO of Procter & Gamble. Proctor and Gamble have a long history of being one of the worst polluters on the planet and have been accused of tax fraud and using child labor.
Cindy McCain: McCain is Widow of Republican senator John McCain and the chair of Hensley & Co. Immigrant Rights groups in Arizona led a boycott against Hensley & Co for the latter’s support of Arizona SB 1070, which at the time of passage was the broadest and strictest anti-immigration measure passed in the United States.
Tech Industry Task Force
National Security Experts Giving Transition Team Briefings
Lloyd Austin: Austin is a retired General who helped spearhead the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a war that cost over three trillion dollars, killed over 1 million Iraqis, displaced over three million people, and injured millions more.
Tony Blinken: Blinken is a former deputy secretary of the state. See above.
Stanley McChrystal: McChrystal is a former army general. He systematized mass killings and detention of suspected insurgents in Iraq. He also led Joint Special Operations Command, overseeing a kill list and deadly night raids in what journalist Jeremy Scahill called a “merciless killing campaign” in the Middle East. McChrystal also has a long history of overseeing and condoning horrific torture tactics.
William McRaven: McRaven was a former navy admiral. McRaven was an architect of Obama’s extrajudicial assassination policy. He also advocated the military strike on al-Majalah in Yemen in 2009 that killed forty-one civilians, including fourteen women and twenty-two children. McRaven also planned a night raid on an Afghan wedding party that killed the bride, the groom, and the groom’s mother.
Samantha Power: Power is a former United Nations ambassador. Power is most known for popularizing the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, which was used to justify a number of imperialistic military adventures abroad, including the Iraq War and the bombing of both Syria and Libya, among others.
Avril Haines: Haines is a former CIA deputy. She is also a member of the Center for a New American Society, a think tank funded by weapons contractors. Haines supported Trump’s controversial nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. It was well known at the time that Haspel was involved in the operations of CIA secret black sites. Haspel also admitted her role in destroying torture videotapes by CIA interrogators. She was one of the architects of the legal justification for Obama’s targeted assassination kill list. Haines also worked for shadowy datamining firm Palantir, and she is known for intimidating journalists and assisting the NSA in domestic spying.
Nicholas Burns: Burns was the undersecretary of state for political affairs for George W. Bush. While serving in the Bush Administration Burns was a staunch supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq. Burns also has attacked whistleblower Edward Snowden and called him a “traitor.”
David Cohen: Cohen was a deputy director of the CIA. Cohen was an architect of the sanctions on Iran and Russia. Sanctions in Iran have been devastating, collectively punishing the Iranian people by increasing unemployment, creating medicine shortages, and causing skyrocketing inflation. Sanctions in Iran have also exacerbated the COVID-19 outbreak.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield: Thomas-Greenfield was the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She was a supporter of George W. Bush’s neocolonial Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). MCA privileged US corporations in Africa and enabled the exploitation of African economies.
Bob Work: Work was a deputy of secretary of defense under the Obama and Trump administrations. Between 2013 and 2014 he was the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, which receives funds from weapons manufacturers and has long advocated for increased military spending.