Welcoming the Old Guard

President-elect Joe Biden addresses reporters following an online meeting with members of the National Governors Association (NGA) executive committee in Wilmington, Del., November 19, 2020. (Tom Brenner / Reuters)

As Biden slowly unveils his cabinet wishlist, left-wing Democrats should brace themselves for more of the same from their party.

Anear a primary campaign torn by debates over radical policies championed by progressive factions within the Democratic Party – and even a general election that saw many incumbent Democrats threatened or defeated due to voters’ concern over progressivism – the new administration and Congress appear to be gearing up for four years of fairly standard leftist tariffs.

Last week, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) Was re-elected Speaker of the House by her fellow Democrats. Although she will face a vote in the plenary chamber when the next Congress meets in January, it looks like she is more than ready to hold onto her position. Unlike 2018, Pelosi did not face the challenge of a progressive candidate unhappy with the longtime MP’s liberal good faith. Even Democrats unhappy with Pelosi’s leadership – who at times openly challenged his priorities and decisions – came out without a whimper.

The only congressional casualty among establishment Democrats was Senator Dianne Feinstein, who after facing sharp criticism from the left for being too friendly with Republicans and not hard enough with the Supreme Court candidate Amy Coney Barrett, has resigned as Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

The incoming presidential administration, meanwhile, has so far seemed as if it was a cabinet overhaul we have witnessed for eight years under the Obama-Biden administration. The former vice president managed to drag himself across the finish line in this year’s election with the help of significant support from the former president. Now he seems ready to surround himself with familiar faces.

Biden announced Antony Blinken as his choice for secretary of state. Blinken has been with Biden for a long time: he was a senior assistant while Biden was in the Senate. When Biden became a Senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken worked for him as a director of personnel.

During the Obama administration, Blinken then served as Biden’s national security adviser and, in 2014, was elected Deputy Secretary of State. In other words, he’s been around for a while – and he and cabinet choices like him are a far cry from what progressives want to see from the president-elect.

Two major progressive groups, Justice Democrats and the environmental movement Sunrise, earlier this month unveiled a wishlist for how they want Biden to fill more than a dozen cabinet positions. For Secretary of State, they suggested Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.), About as different from Blinken as any choice could be. And Blinken isn’t the only former Obama staffer to have received a nod from the new administration. To head the Department of Homeland Security, for example, Biden chose Alejandro Mayorkas, who worked on the transition when Obama was first elected and went on to hold several administrative positions, including deputy secretary of DHS.

Considering some of the other names Biden’s team has released as potential nominees, Progressives seem ready to be disappointed after disappointment. On the one hand, progressive elements of the party want to see candidates who failed to defeat Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary installed in the cabinet. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is their choice for Secretary of the Treasury, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to head the Department of Labor. At least one of those pipe dreams is dead, as Biden reportedly picked former Federal Reserve Director Janet Yellen for the role.

Indeed, Biden’s decision to place Yellen in the Treasury underscores that while progressive fire brands like Warren and Sanders have been contenders for the top spots, Biden himself seems reluctant to move in a more progressive direction – although he positions his reluctance as a desire not to suppress. Democrats in the Senate. “Getting someone out of the Senate, removing someone from the House, especially an important person, is a really tough decision that should be made,” Biden said in a recent interview with NBC.

For the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Biden is considering New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Progressives prefer two-term MP Pramila Jayapal, a leftist Democrat and former activist arrested in 2018 after participating in a sit-in at a Senate office building to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Biden would have is still reflecting on a few contenders for attorney general, including Democratic Senator from Alabama Doug Jones, who was defeated in his reelection race this cycle by Republican Tommy Tuberville; California Attorney General Xavier Becerra; former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates; and Justice Merrick Garland, Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court candidate. Progressives are looking for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a former progressive congressman who lost his 2017 bid for the Democratic National Committee.

The Progressive Wish List is pushing far-left MP Rashida Tlaib (D., Michigan) to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Instead, Biden is considering several slightly more moderate options, including two women he has endorsed to be his vice president: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and California MP Karen Bass.

And it’s not just activists preparing to stand up to Biden as he falls back on establishment favorites. Far-left Democratic congressmen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar signed a petition urging Biden not to name Bruce Reed, his former chief of staff, as head of the Bureau of Management and Budget. The petition calls Reed a “deficit hawk” and criticizes him for supporting cuts to social security and medicare.

According to Axios, Omar said she was “proud to join Justice Democrats and our progressive coalition in saying no to deficit hawks.” The petition, along with the rumors of Omar and Ocasio-Cortez, could be seen as a reaction to early disappointments – with progressives trying to signal to the new administration that Biden will face a backlash if he continues to fill his cabinet with choices like those he has released so far.

From top to bottom of the list, Biden seems reluctant to respond to the more radical progressive priorities, at least when it comes to how he runs his administration. As Evan Halper put it in the Los Angeles Times, Biden selects “a Goldilocks cabinet, not too far left or right.” His reasoning makes sense. Although he often failed to resist progressive elements in his party and drifted to the left on several key issues during the campaign, he vowed to rule in moderation. Filling his cabinet with faces from the last administration is at least one way of making it look like he’s doing just that.

During this time, most of its candidates will have to be confirmed by the Senate. Even if Democrats do manage to win one of the Senate second-round races in Georgia, the upper house will be tightly divided and Biden will need the support of a few Republicans to secure places. This reasoning will allow him to reject the demands of the progressives, who should arm themselves more and more.

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