When Donald Trump entered American politics he blew up the Republican Establishment. One implication was that he wound up with a lot of third rate people briefly on his team - Paul Manafort; Steve Bannon; and Anthony Scaramucci to name a few. Rience Priebus did bring the national Republican Party to the campaign and was briefly rewarded as Chief of Straff, and there were several qualified former generals who temporarily stepped up - John Kelly; James Mattis; HR McMaster - but by and large this was deliberately not an administratiion for the Establishment.
Joe Biden is the polar opposite. After 47 years in Washington, and eight near the pinnacle of the last Democratic administration which ended just four years ago (is that even possible?), he is the ultimate candidate of the Democratic Establishment, pulled out of the dust bin when it looked like Bernie Sanders might sink them all. His personnel selections go to the Establishment - for better when it means that most are qualified and experienced; for worse when it means that they may well be prisoners of past failed policies or just adept at currying bureaucratic favor.
First, the domestic crew, where like it or not, they will do their best to implement the policies which they believe got them (oops, him) elected: expansion of public medical coverage; phasing out carbon based energy; somehow stimulating the economy; making it easier for illegal immigrants; restricting charter schools; protecting abortion; not being Donald Trump. For most of these things, the department head doesn't much matter. The Congress may provide a check - assuming a Republican Senate - but the executive branch will march to the Left.
Some thoughts on key players who might make a difference:
- Janet Yellen: As Treasury Secretary, perhaps a lateral transfer or demotion from her time as Federal Reserve Chair. She is well qualified in terms of both technical knowledge, and experience working in the politics of Washington. One concern: she has a long history of wanting low interest rates to help the economy in the short term. With 27 trillion of debt and ongoing trillion dollar deficits, we will be entering a period where fiscal prudence is demanded. Federal Reserve Chair Powell is committed to low interest rates for years. The Senate can only do so much.
- Prospective Chief of Staff Ron Klain has been with Biden since the 80's, most recently as Vice President Biden's Chief of Staff, with a focus on the 2009 Recovery Act (among the slowest in history), and the administration's Ebola czar. While the Obama administration's Ebola response was not impressive, Klain knows all of the domestic and international agencies and should be helpful in the next phase of the coronavirus response.
- The announced candidate for head of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, whose role involves negotiating the many trade-offs that have to be made, was a Hillary confidant, helped write the Affordable Care Act, and most recently has headed the uber-liberal Center for American Progress. She tweets more than Trump and has recently gone out of her way to insult Trump, his supporters, and Lindsey Graham. (And that's the Washington Post biography.) Senate confirmation is uncertain.
Second, the international crew, where Biden has more latitude to act, and where he is committed to reverse Trump's emphasis on what is best for America.
- John Kerry is a "twofer":
As President Biden's Special Envoy for Climate, he will be empowered to bring the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement which he helped to create as President Obama's Secretary of State, and which President Trump left in 2017. He will be asked to implement Biden's commitment to spend 2 trillion dollars to transform the transportation and power sectors of the economy. For what it is worth, the stark change of policy with each administration change shows the folly of making major changes by executive order rather than by treaty, which would require building national consensus, as was most recently done on the North American free trade agreement.
Most troubling about Kerry, Biden has placed the climate czar on the National Security Council with the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury and the Director of National Intelligence. It is hard to believe that Kerry will stay in his lane amid discussions about the Iran nuclear deal, which he also negotiated. That he (illegally, but openly) had discussion with Iranian and European leaders in the early years of the Trump administration suggests Biden may not be in charge of this most important risk.
- The rest of the national security team include some with experience on VP Biden's staff (Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as National Security Advisor); some with significant Obama Administration experience (Alejandro Mayorkas -who led DACA implementation - as Homeland Security Secretary); and some careerists (Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN Ambassador.) The Secretary of Defense position remains open, with Michele Flourney the most qualified to make the difficiult financial prioritizations which are to come - but while she would check the female box, she would continue Biden's failure to appoint Blacks to senior positions. Like Biden, the group has a history of being wrong on Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and ISIS, and none posesses significant experience with China, which outgoing Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe emphatically calls the greatest threat to democracy and freedom since World War II.
Don't look for any carry-overs. Searching for middle ground is a good campaign slogan.
bill bowen - 12/4/20