Columns, Opinion

2020 Breakdown: Progressives call for a ‘no corporate cabinet’ but Biden won’t listen

After swallowing their pride and compromising their ideologies to support President-elect Joe Biden during the general election, progressives are now calling for a greater movement to the left.

Biden should be listening to and taking progressives’ demands into consideration. Unsurprisingly, he has yet to do so.

More than 20 progressive groups — including Demand Progress and Data for Progress — have launched a campaign urging Biden to select progressives for his administration. They are asking people to direct social media postings, calls and emails to senators and the Biden transition team. 

Revolving Door Project, Demand Progress and three other organizations also launched the “No Corporate Cabinet” petition campaign to pressure Biden into shutting out lobbyists, consultants and corporate executives from his administration. 

The campaign’s website lists some of these “corporate insiders” on the short list. Many of those names include officials and allies of former President Barack Obama’s administration who were lobbyists or supporters of corporate-friendly policies. 

“Executive-branch powers will be one of Biden’s most powerful ways of tangibly improving Americans’ lives,” said Revolving Door Project’s founder Jeff Hauser in an interview with NBC News. “He cannot defer to corporate America if he hopes to do that.”

These campaigns follow press conferences in which progressive lawmakers — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Sen. Ed Markey — called for Biden to uphold the progressive policy promises he made on the campaign trail.

“We’re going to organize and demand that this administration … keep their promise,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Keeps its promise to young people. Keeps its promise to the movement for Black lives. Keeps its promise to working-class people across the United States.”

Prior to the “No Corporate Cabinet” and email campaigns, more than 40 progressive organizations worked to compile a list of 400 suggested hires for the Biden transition team.

Despite the valiant efforts of these organizations and legislators, Biden has opted to elevate shady Washington characters with ties to big business.

Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and one of his picks for Secretary of Defense, Michèle Flournoy, were advisers at Pine Island Capital Partners — a D.C.-based investment firm with strong ties to military contractors and aerospace companies.

And, after serving in the Obama administration, the pair co-founded the consulting firm WestExec Advisors.

WestExec is a “strategic advisory firm that offers unique geopolitical and policy expertise,” according to its website.

Sounds like benign Washington-speak, right?

Nope. It’s actually incredibly unethical and — similar to countless other unethical practices in our government — completely legal. 

 The New York Times wrote that WestExec and Pine Island are examples of how former government officials can exploit their connections and access in order to benefit the businesses they work for. The article notes: “In some cases, [without] disclosing details about their work, including the names of the clients or what they are paid.”

Because WestExec purports to be a consulting firm rather than a lobbying firm, it does not have to abide by the same rules lobbyists do.

It is under no legal obligation to disclose its clients, which raises serious red flags when its former executives re-enter the political fold to serve under a Biden-Harris administration. 

Even if Blinken, Flournoy and other corporate executives considered for Biden’s administration cut ties to their private sector companies and clients, there will always be questions of whether they might unfairly favor these same companies.

It also creates the ethical issue of whether WestExec and Pine Island will attract access-seeking and influence-peddling corporations desperate for a seat at the Biden administration’s proverbial table.

The revolving door that is D.C. — i.e., the cast of characters who bounce from one government position to a lofty private sector position and back to government position — does not stop with Flournoy or Blinken. 

Biden’s pick for Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, is also tied to WestExec, and another of his picks for Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin III, is tied to Pine Island.

As Biden continues to drop new names for his cabinet, the list of shady characters with big business connections looks to be unending.

Clearly, Biden is not listening to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In other words, he’s not listening to the very people who helped get him elected.

Biden needs to take progressives’ concerns seriously and he needs to do it now.

Otherwise, the Democratic Party will completely splinter —  and this time, there won’t be the President Donald Trump-like evil to unite against.

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