When it comes to Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's election campaigns—and potential presidencies—who's actually in "the room where it happens?"
Watchdog group Public Citizen sheds light behind closed doors with its new report, out Thursday, entitled The Company They Keep: A Guide to the Presidential Candidates’ Domestic Policy Advisers (pdf).
Arguing that "personnel choices provide a window into politicians' true views," the dossier provides basic information about 26 advisers to Clinton and Trump—13 people on each side.
The report reads:
This list is not comprehensive. In general, those included are people whose expertise focuses on policies as opposed to politics. That is, messaging gurus, pollsters and spinmeisters are not included. Some of those who have been dubbed policy advisers also are not included, simply because there is no evidence that they truly have the candidate's ear. For instance, a member of one of the candidates' economic teams said recently that he had never spoken to the candidate.
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The potential roles of these individuals vary. Some are potential leaders of post-Election Day transition teams if their candidate wins; others may be candidates for prominent appointments, such as to cabinet-level positions; still others might be positioned to be influential advisers if their candidate wins, even if they are not likely to join the administration.
In each of these scenarios, these individuals' backgrounds and outlooks matter, both because of their potential to shape policies and because of what their proximity to the candidates says about the candidates themselves.
Among those whispering in Clinton's ears:
- John Podesta: Former chief of staff to Bill Clinton; co-founder along with his brother, Tony, of the Podesta Group, one of the largest firms in Washington, D.C. Anti-war activist and CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin has criticized the Podesta Group for its ties to the Saudi government; while others have pointed to his "full-throttled endorsement of fracking" in a 2012 op-ed. Under former President Clinton, meanwhile, "Podesta helped lead the charge to deregulate Wall Street, which resulted in the banking bubble that wiped out the savings of tens of millions of Americans," Truthdig editor Robert Scheer has written.
- Roger Altman: Former U.S. Treasury official; partner at Lehman Brothers; vice-chairman of Blackrock Group; executive chairman of investment bank Evercore Partners. Evercore, wrote Brad Johnson of Climate Hawks Vote this year, is "one of the top advisors to fracking industry mergers and acquisitions deals." Media critic Jim Naureckas took Altman to task in July for pushing an overly rosy view of the American economy. "If, like Altman, you're part of the elite that has benefited from a soaring stock market and a climate-wrecking energy boom, you may well be feeling optimistic right now," Naureckas wrote. "If you're part of the majority that's still hurting after six years of 'recovery,' thinking that the U.S. is on the wrong track isn't pessimism–it's realism."
- Heather Boushey: Executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth; formerly with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and the Economic Policy Institute. Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect, has called Boushey "a quite progressive economist," while Public Citizen says she "is recognized as a pioneering scholar in advocating for work policies to permit flexible scheduling, paid sick leave, and availability of child care."
- Jake Sullivan: National security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden; former State Department official under Secretary Clinton. Considered Clinton's top foreign policy adviser, Sullivan told a New York Times reporter this year: "There's no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s more muscular brand of American foreign policy is better matched to 2016 than it was to 2008." He reportedly played a key role in shaping the Iran nuclear deal.
And in Trump's:
- Chris Christie: Governor of New Jersey. Christie, whose "influence over [Trump's] transition-planning process appears to be strong," is far from moderate. As John Nichols wrote at The Nation in 2013: "He's a social conservative who opposes reproductive rights, has defunded Planned Parenthood and has repeatedly rejected attempts to restore state funding for family planning centers. He has vetoed money for clinics that provide health screenings for women, including mammograms and pap smears. He vetoed marriage equality." And his record has only gone downhill since then.
- Ed Feulner: Founding trustee and former president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Naomi Klein has referred to him as "the guru of unfettered capitalism" and accused him of pushing a "radical anti-state agenda" for decades.
- Newt Gingrich: Former U.S. Representative and Speaker of the House; co-author of the GOP's 1994 "Contract With America." Gingrich has indicated that he wants a second chance at implementing an uber-conservative agenda, having reportedly said that within a Trump administration: "I want to be the senior planner for the entire federal government."
- Don McGahn: Former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. "As a member of the Federal Election Commission, McGahn consistently advocated for deregulation of campaign finance laws," according to Public Citizen, and "pushed an expansive interpretation" of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.
Notably, there are no women identified as close advisers on Trump's side.