As Trump’s hopes of ever being invited to dinner by the old guard of Palm Beach swirl around his gold-plated toilet bowl, sucking with it the possibility of Republicans holding the Senate, the real battle for the future of a nation has begun. The shot heard round the capital has now been fired.
Every new president has around 4,000 political appointments to make across the executive branch — and for Democrats, who actually care about governing competently, it’s important to fill those jobs with people who know what they’re doing.
While Trump staffed the government like a Mom and Pop Shop, to the extent it was staffed at all since there just weren’t that many people who could suffer proximity to him for very long, others put in actual people to do the work of running an enterprise as huge and complex as the United States. This may be controversial in itself, as a nation too huge, too complex, for its own good, but the need for at least some competent executive branch staff is undeniable. There’s work to be done and someone has to do it.
But personnel, as the saying goes, is policy. And progressives want to make sure Joe Biden doesn’t forget it.
Beating Trump may be step one in the scheme, but it’s only the first step. Sure, even the Democratic faithful rejected Bernie and Warren, not to mention Marianne Williamson, but that doesn’t mean the progressive wing plans to let their best opportunity to seize a nation go that easily.
Left-wing House members including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katie Porter, Ayanna Pressley, Raúl Grijalva and candidate Jamaal Bowman along with 39 progressive groups signed a letter, obtained by POLITICO, arguing that no C-suite level corporate executives or corporate lobbyists ought to have Senate-confirmed positions in a Biden administration.
After all, AOC was a bartender before she become the face of left-wing progressives. What’s wrong with finding a Secretary of State who worked as a busboy before the pandemic?
The desire on the left that the next administration not be staffed with those who traverse the revolving door will not be news to Biden and his team. Which is why a letter like this one is about public relations more than anything. And that’s perfectly appropriate: If they’re going to achieve their goals, they need both an inside and an outside strategy.
Biden needs the support of the progressive fringe of the Democratic Party to win, meaning that they have enormous leverage at the moment. They will still have leverage after the election, as the implicit threat is that if they don’t get their way in a Biden administration, they will stay on the streets burning down buildings and making Biden’s tenure miserable. After all, what can Biden do about radicals shutting down the streets other than sending out the riot squad or acquiescing to their extortion? And frankly, it’s not as if Biden would feel all that bad about it.
There are two important things to know about Biden when it comes to this question. The first is that, as I’ve argued, he’s extremely pliable, and not necessarily in a bad way. He doesn’t have specific policy ideas that he will always refuse to budge from; he wants to make deals and get wins. Which means that he’s potentially open to influence from all sides.
For progressives, that’s good news: While Biden may have moderate instincts, if they’re smart and organized they can influence him to move in their direction.
Biden’s election isn’t one of thrall, but disgust. He’s not Trump, and for much of the electorate, that’s all that really matters. What is he? Meh, who cares? That leaves him wide open for whatever change he finds expedient to make his administration survive. If that means denying students due process under Title IX to appease women, so what? If that means changing equal opportunity to equal outcomes, he won’t lose sleep.
But no “C-suite” executives means two things: people with demonstrated competence and success will be replaced with the unduly passionate. As Catherine Lhamon demonstrated during the Obama Administration, one very Machiavellian radical bureaucrat can wreak havoc in an administrative state. And make no mistake, the United States is very much an administrative state.
This presents a problem for Biden, who has been around long enough to have gathered his own team of supporters who expect a government office.
The second important thing to know about Biden is that, like many longtime politicians, he carries with him a large cadre of aides, confidantes and supporters — from his time in both the Senate and the Obama administration — most of whom are expecting to get positions in his administration. Some of them are more liberal than others, and many of them have indeed been corporate lobbyists.
These are not the people AOC has in mind to reimagine government. There will, no doubt, be compromises made across the board, as there will be debts Biden owes that must be repaid. That will include debts to the progressive wing as well, however, and Biden is nothing if not a man of compromises.
At the same time, Biden has gone out of his way to bring progressives, many of them supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), into his fold. He seems to sincerely want the entire party to be represented in his administration.
As a gesture of uniting a party, and maybe even a nation, that would appear to be good thing. After all, shouldn’t the government be able to have all views, at least on the side that won the election, reflected?
Then again, there is an issue that may not concern Biden, but should. Will his pliability cause him to let the authoritarian left seize the administrative apparatus of government to keep them happy and off the streets? The AOC Squad is counting on it, and they’ve just let Biden know their demands.