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Bernie Sanders Labor Secretary

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) visits striking United Auto Workers union members as they picket at the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant on September 25, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

'He'd Be Terrific': Progressives Enthusiastic at Prospect of Lifelong Worker Champion Bernie Sanders as Labor Secretary

While progressives were mostly excited by the possibility of Sanders taking over the Labor Department, some voiced concerns about the consequences of losing a powerful left voice in the Senate.

Jake Johnson

Progressives were on the whole enthusiastic about the prospect of Sen. Bernie Sanders taking charge of the Labor Department after Politico reported late Thursday that the lifelong champion of the working class has expressed interest in pursuing the position should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden emerge victorious from next month's pivotal election.

Sanders told Politico that his "main focus" at the moment is on ensuring that Biden defeats incumbent President Donald Trump on November 3 and would neither confirm nor deny that he is seeking the top Labor Department post, which is currently occupied by former corporate lawyer and union opponent Eugene Scalia.

But two unnamed people close to the Vermont senator told Politico that Sanders—who has been campaigning relentlessly for Biden both virtually and in person in recent weeks—"has been making his push for the top job at the Labor Department in part by reaching out to allies on the transition team."

"Sanders sees an opportunity to achieve long-held policy goals for the working class under Biden," Politico reported, citing an anonymous source familiar with the senator's thinking.

Economist Robert Reich, who served as Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton, voiced his approval of Sanders' reported push for the job, which would put the senator in a powerful position to enact significant changes to U.S. labor regulations and crack down on abusive corporations.

"He'd be terrific," Reich told Politico.

Other progressives echoed Reich, welcoming the possibility of an unabashed advocate of union rights taking over a department that over the past four years has moved to roll back worker protections and treated corporate abuses with kid gloves.

"Hey we have an idea and it's LET'S DO THIS," advocacy group People's Action tweeted in response to Politico's reporting.

"Sanders as Labor Secretary... we're into it," added environmental group 350 Action.

While the progressive response to news of Sanders' interest in the Department of Labor post was largely positive, some warned about the potential consequences of losing Sanders as a critical voice and key advocate of the Green New Deal and Medicare for All in the Senate.

"It's a really bad idea for Sanders to become Labor Secretary because as an administration official he would be unable to harshly criticize the Biden White House," tweeted Nathan Robinson, editor of the left-wing magazine Current Affairs. "We are going to urgently need independent left voices to tell the truth about Biden, not apologists."

If Biden wins the presidential election next month and offers Sanders the labor secretary job, the Vermont senator would have to decide whether to vacate his seat and potentially allow Vermont's Republican Gov. Phil Scott—who is facing off against Sanders-endorsed Democratic nominee David Zuckerman next month—to name his temporary replacement. Under Vermont law, a special election for the seat must take place within six months of the vacancy.

"Bernie Sanders as Secretary of Labor would indeed be excellent," progressive activist Stephanie Quilao tweeted.

But Quilao also noted that Sanders is poised to become chairman of both the powerful Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Subcommittee on Health if Democrats win control of the chamber in November, raising the question of where the progressive stalwart would have the most impact.

"Which position has more power and influence?" Quilao asked.

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