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Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), nominee for Secretary of the Interior, testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Capitol Hill February 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Haaland would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. (Photo by Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), nominee for Secretary of the Interior, testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Capitol Hill February 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Haaland would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. (Photo by Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)

Through Vigilant Organizing, Progressives Secure Representation in the Biden Administration

Make no mistake, these appointments matter—these individuals will be shaping and informing policy decisions at the highest levels of government, affecting millions of lives in the process.

Aidan Smith

Joe Biden has taken office as President of the United States, and with him comes an entirely new administration. While progressives were unable to make one of their own the Democratic presidential nominee, the cabinet composition process has confirmed that the Left has made huge strides in building influence within the party. Thanks to the tireless work of economic, racial, and climate justice organizations, progressives are set to have more representation in the upcoming administration than under any other recent president. 

Biden has already spearheaded more action on climate than President Obama did in his entire two terms.

Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the realm of environmental policy. In just a few weeks, Biden has already spearheaded more action on climate than President Obama did in his entire two terms. Indeed, when Obama won the presidency in 2008, he chose Ken Salazar, a centrist known for his oil industry ties, to lead the Department of the Interior. Twelve years later, however, Biden's choice couldn’t be more dissimilar. Following a high-profile pressure campaign, Biden’s Secretary of the Interior will be Deb Haaland, an Indigeneous woman and climate champion committed to protecting the rights of tribal nations and public lands. 

One of the most vocal advocates of the Green New Deal in Congress, Haaland is perfect for a role responsible for protecting Native lands and America’s natural resources. Progressive groups went all-in to push Haaland’s nomination above other leading contenders for the role and it paid off: Haaland is set to be one of the most progressive Cabinet members in history, and will use her position to protect Indigenous land rights and advance environmental and climate justice. 

The rise of progressive climate organizations like the Sunrise Movement have clearly influenced non-Cabinet climate appointments as well: Climate warriors like Maggie Thomas of Evergreen Action and Cecilia Martinez of the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy will also serve in the Administration.

Similarly, the role of economic justice organizations in shaping the upcoming Biden Administration should be accounted for as well. Organizations like the Revolving Door Project (RDP) played an invaluable role in identifying problematic potential appointees to the administration and pushing critics of corporate power for top roles. 

The decisions to include progressive voices in economic positions were not made in a vacuum—they are the result of years of tireless organizing to curb corporate influence in government. 

A particularly exciting appointment is that of Bharat Ramamurti, a progressive known for championing student debt cancellation, to be Deputy Director of the National Economic Council. Ramamurti’s appointment, which will give progressives a voice in the crucial advisory body, was highlighted in particular by RDP as a victory for the Left. Also welcome is the presence of progressive economists Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey in the Council of Economic Advisors.

Progressives should be excited by the appointment of Gary Gensler, an advocate for increased oversight of banks, to lead the powerful Securities and Exchange Commission. Gensler was mentioned throughout the campaign cycle as a top choice of progressives for an economic role in a Biden presidency. The choice of Rohit Chopra, who has been a crusader for consumer interests in his role at the Federal Trade Commission, to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is another key victory for progressives.

The decisions to include progressive voices in economic positions were not made in a vacuum—they are the result of years of tireless organizing to curb corporate influence in government. Demand Progress should be noted as having been particularly vigilant in the struggle to curb Wall Street’s influence in the executive branch. 

During his second term, Obama’s Trade Representative was a former CitiGroup executive. In contrast, Biden’s appointee to the role is set to be Katherine Tai, a trade expert credited with securing additional worker protections during the USMCA negotiation process. Additionally, Obama chose a former head of the Walmart Foundation to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services. In contrast, Biden’s nominee to lead HHS is Xavier Becerra, an advocate of single-payer healthcare and aggressive oversight of the pharmaceutical industry

Marcia Fudge, the upcoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has been a strong supporter of public housing and protecting tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic in Congress. This contrasts with Shaun Donovan, Obama’s first choice for the role, who was routinely criticized by tenants’ organizers during his tenure. Fudge’s history of supporting measures to hold predatory mortgage lenders accountable makes her nomination a welcome one for progressives. 

These appointments make clear that, through vigilant organizing, progressives can influence the Biden Administration’s personnel choices. Although there are certainly Biden appointments that will disappoint progressives, it is clear we’re seeing a shift leftward in the realm of personnel selection compared to the Obama Administration. Make no mistake, these appointments matter —these individuals will be shaping and informing policy decisions at the highest levels of government, affecting millions of lives in the process. The Left has a responsibility, and a proven theory of change, to push for progressive appointments under Biden.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Aidan Smith

Aidan Smith is an Electoral Analyst for Data for Progress, a progressive think tank.

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