AOC, Bernie Sanders lead left-wing opposition to Joe Biden Cabinet nominees


Key figures on the Democratic Party’s left wing appear to be losing patience with presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden and his team after an uneasy alliance during the campaign.

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont griped that liberals aren’t sufficiently represented in the Cabinet thus far and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demanded a more “cohesive vision” from the appointments.

“We’re kind of in this weird spot where the defense is often well, they’re better than Trump’s people and they’re not Rahm Emanuel,” said Pete D’Alessandro, an adviser to Mr. Sanders’ 2020 and 2016 presidential campaigns. “That’s kind of a low bar.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a leader of the far-left Capitol Hill firebrands known as “The Squad,” said she is looking for a clear agenda from the Biden team.

“I think it would be great to see a more cohesive vision across the entire Cabinet,” the New York Democrat said. “I think one of the things I’m looking for when I see all of these picks put together is: What is the agenda? What is the overall vision going to be?”

Mr. Sanders, who is being pushed for labor secretary by some of his supporters, said the presumptive president-elect can’t forget who brought him to the dance.

“The progressive movement deserves a number of seats — important seats — in the Biden administration. Have I seen that at this point? I have not,” Mr. Sanders told Axios this week.

Mr. Biden’s picks have been mostly familiar faces from the Obama era and the Democratic Washington establishment, such as John F. Kerry for climate czar, Susan E. Rice for domestic policy adviser and Neera Tanden for budget director.

Some on the left have applauded Mr. Biden for naming former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary and former Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations.

But the Sunrise Movement, a climate-focused activist group, said it was frustrating that Rep. Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, Mr. Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was passed over for agriculture secretary in favor of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who held the same job for eight years under President Obama.

“While we believe Rep. Fudge can excel at any leadership position, we share the confusion of many about this move and are left to believe this choice stems from shallow racial stereotypes about the office,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the group.

Black leaders such as House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina pushed for Ms. Fudge to head the Department of Agriculture. The congresswoman had said Black Americans are frequently relegated to lower-profile administration posts such as HUD or the Labor Department, according to Politico.

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, said it was clear that Ms. Fudge wanted to be agriculture secretary and not HUD secretary.

“[That] makes sense because she has no experience with housing policy,” Mr. McHenry said. “The housing needs of Americans are too great to appoint someone who is accepting this position as a consolation prize.”

Beyond his early appointments, Mr. Biden has had a tenuous relationship with the left.

He points out that he “beat the socialist” — Mr. Sanders — as proof that he is not a Trojan Horse for the far left.

Mr. Biden also lamented at a meeting with civil rights leaders this week that Republicans used the left’s “defund the police” slogan to “beat the living hell out of us” in the elections, according to The Intercept.

During an interview with CNN last week, presumptive Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris struggled to name a “leading progressive” who had been nominated for a Cabinet position. Mr. Biden has since named Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Biden could tap more staunchly liberal candidates to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

Potential contenders for EPA administrator include Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who made climate change a singular focus of his unsuccessful 2020 presidential bid.

Possible candidates for Energy secretary include a stable of former Obama administration veterans: Ernest Moniz, who held that post during the Obama administration, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a former deputy energy secretary, and Arun Majumdar, a former acting undersecretary of energy.

Mr. D’Alessandro said he and others on the left need to realize that Mr. Biden — not Mr. Sanders — won the election and that it makes sense for top-level appointments to reflect that.

“There are times when you just have to step back and say, ‘We didn’t win,’” he said. “I complained about Trump’s appointments because I didn’t agree with any of them. But he was the one [who] got to make the appointments if he could get them through the Senate.”

Mr. Biden also said the razor-thin margins in the House and Senate are factoring into his staffing decisions.

In addition to Ms. Fudge, Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana also is leaving his solidly Democratic House seat to take a top White House job, temporarily leaving House Democrats with an even thinner majority next year.

The Senate would be a 50-50 split in a best-case scenario for Democrats, pending the outcomes of two runoff elections in Georgia next month.

Those moving parts could complicate matters for Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, whom many liberals are pushing to lead the Department of the Interior.

Other potential contenders for that post are retiring Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Connor, a deputy secretary of the interior under Mr. Obama.

Ms. Prakash of the Sunrise Movement warned against Mr. Connor’s ties to private and corporate interests and said it seemed as though Biden advisers, whom she did not name, are making sexist arguments to try to disqualify Ms. Haaland.

“It is shameful that strong, qualified women of color are allegedly being pushed out of the running for roles they are qualified to fill in order to make room for men with corporate connections,” she said.

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