Welcome to POLITICO’s 2020 Transition Playbook, your guide to one of the most consequential transfers of power in American history.
‘I KNOW WE CAN DO THIS’ — President-elect JOE BIDEN promised that his administration could help revive the country’s pandemic-battered economy in remarks in Wilmington, Del. on Monday. But we still don’t know who, exactly, he’s going to enlist on the personnel front to make that happen.
Biden’s choice for top economic positions in the White House and executive branch are expected to be some of his first appointments, with announcements coming as early as this week. Nancy reports interest is surging in former Federal Reserve Chair JANET YELLEN as a potential Treasury Secretary, after LAEL BRAINARD of the Federal Reserve Board initially seemed to have a lock on the position. (Bloomberg News reported on Friday that Yellen had withdrawn from an upcoming speaking gig because she’s under consideration.)
The top job at the National Economic Council could go to BEN HARRIS (one of the closest economic advisers to Biden), GENE SPERLING (who served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations in the that post) or JARED BERNSTEIN, who could also easily land at the Council of Economic Advisers or as a senior adviser in the White House.
It’s “virtually certain” Bernstein ends up somewhere in the administration, one person in touch with the transition team said, adding: “It’s a question of what” role he ultimately ends up in.
Other names circulating: HEATHER BOUSHEY, an economist who advised Biden during the campaign, for CEA chairwoman; RAPHAEL BOSTIC of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and transition co-chairman JEFF ZIENTS (if he wants it) for high-level posts; GRAHAM STEELE, a former aide to Sen. SHERROD BROWN (D-Ohio) and former Democratic chief counsel to the Senate Banking Committee, to run the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or become Comptroller of the Currency.
CHARLES YI’s name is also in the mix for FDIC, where he once worked as the general counsel. Yi serves on one of the Biden transition landing teams, but he has also worked for corporate clients as a partner at Arnold & Porter, a fact that may nix his appointment.
The largest economic personnel fight, apart from Treasury Secretary, will be waged over the NEC slot, since it is a position that blends both politics and policy with close proximity to the president — far more than its wonkier counterpart of the CEA.
Another place we’ll be closely watching is whoever Biden picks to run the Office of Management and Budget. That will be a powerful post as the Biden administration tries to roll back or undo many of Trump’s conservative policies – though there has been far less chatter around that job than other economic ones.
Major disqualifiers for econ posts? Anything that reeks too much of Wall Street on your resume. Diversity is also incredibly important to the Biden team, so look for the transition team to announce its economic team as a group, like Obama did, to show off the range of voices.
UNIONS DIVIDED — Biden said at his event Monday that “union leaders are going to have increased power” in his administration. But it’s going to be tougher to maintain their leverage if labor leaders, themselves, aren’t on the same page, as is the case in discussions over Labor secretary, ELEANOR MUELLER and MEGAN CASSELLA report.
AFL-CIO President RICHARD TRUMKA and some of his organization’s largest affiliate unions are voicing support for Boston Mayor MARTY WALSH, a former head of the city’s Building and Construction Trades Council who could appeal to construction workers that backed Trump in the election. But other member unions are publicly pushing for Rep. ANDY LEVIN, a Michigan Democrat and former union organizer who also ran his state’s job training program.
The divide was laid bare at an AFL-CIO meeting on Friday, where union presidents who sit on the federation’s political committee were expected to discuss a potential endorsement for the job. That didn’t happen, and another meeting hasn’t been scheduled, four people familiar with the discussions said.
Still in the mix: Sen. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.) has been lobbying for the position. And California Labor Secretary JULIE SU is considered a leading contender, as well.
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At the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Del., where he met this afternoon via Zoom with MARY BARRA of General Motors, MARY KAY HENRY of SEIU, SATYA NADELLA of Microsoft, RORY GAMBLE of UAW, BRIAN CORNELL of Target, MARC PERRONE of UFCW, LEE SAUNDERS of AFSCME, SONIA SYNGAL of Gap Inc. and Trumka. He stayed at the theatre to speak about his economic recovery plan.
With Biden at the Queen.
Former North Dakota Sen. HEIDI HEITKAMP has been considered the early frontrunner for Biden’s Agriculture secretary. But last week, Rep. MARCIA FUDGE made clear in an interview with POLITICO that she is gunning for the job. And now, LIZ CRAMPTON and HELENA BOTTEMILLER EVICH report that progressive groups also have their knives out for Heitkamp.
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SUSAN VS. SUSAN — SUSAN RICE is famously outspoken and blunt. But now that Rice is in contention for secretary of State, her past comments and actions involving one particular Republican senator could seriously haunt her, NAHAL TOOSI highlights.
In her memoir, Rice evinced a sense of betrayal when, in 2012, a “disingenuous” Sen. SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine) joined others in the GOP in torching Rice over her role in the U.S. response to the Benghazi tragedy. Rice wrote that Collins dismissed her side of the story in a “nasty prosecutorial vein.” The “lowest blow,” Rice wrote, was when Collins publicly implied that Rice was to blame for the 1998 Al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa.
Collins’ comments were especially startling given that a few years earlier she had glowingly introduced Rice, who has ties to Maine, during her Senate confirmation hearing to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Collins’ and other Republicans’ criticism of Rice over Benghazi eventually led her to withdraw herself from consideration to serve as Barack Obama’s second-term secretary of State.
The relationship between the two women has gotten worse in the years since. In 2018, Rice weighed, but ultimately opted against, running against Collins for the Senate, saying that Collins had “betrayed women across this country” by voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Collins’ response to Rice’s criticism? “I really have little interest in what she has to say.”
Collins managed to cling to her Senate seat this year, despite fierce Democratic opposition. Regardless of which party controls the Senate, Collins, a rare GOP moderate, could prove key to confirmations. And that means she could derail Rice’s second effort to land at Foggy Bottom.
WHO MIGHT LAND BEHIND THE PODIUM: KATE BEDINGFIELD is seen as having the inside track to become either White House communications director or press secretary, CHRIS CADELAGO, NATASHA KORECKI and MARC CAPUTO report. SYMONE SANDERS could be offered the role of incoming press secretary, or slot into another position before winding up “at the podium” down the line, Biden aides and other people in and around the transition said.
MORE JOCKEYING: Democratic officials tell us that Rep. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-Ariz.) has expressed interest in joining the Biden administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations or Secretary of the Navy. “I would love to serve under the Biden administration but nothing has been offered,” he told ALEX THOMPSON.
JUST HOW ANTI-FACEBOOK IS BIDEN? Biden told The New York Times’ editorial board in January that he’s “never been a fan of Facebook,” but he doesn’t seem to mind hiring Facebook alumni to staff his transition team. Zients, one of the transition’s co-chairmen, is a former Facebook board member. The transition’s general counsel, JESSICA HERTZ, was previously a lawyer for Facebook and helped the company navigate the FTC’s investigation on data privacy and Cambridge Analytica. Former Facebook lobbyist LOUISA TERRELL is heading up the transition’s congressional relations. AUSTIN LIN, a program manager at Facebook from 2017 to 2018, is on the four-person agency review team tasked with the Executive Office of the President. And ERSKINE BOWLES — who spent eight years on Facebook’s board — has been advising the transition team.
It’s a surprising lineup given how vocally some Democrats have bashed Facebook this year, NANCY SCOLA and Alex report. PATRICK STEVENSON, the Democratic National Committee’s chief mobilization office, tweeted last week that “the two biggest institutional threats to our democracy are the Republican Party and Facebook.” BILL RUSSO, a top Biden spokesman, argued shortly after the race was called for Biden that Facebook is “shredding the fabric of our democracy.”
MICHAEL GRUNWALD on the political education of RON KLAIN
FIRST IN TRANSITION PLAYBOOK: FORMER DEM OFFICIALS JOIN GIFFORDS GROUP TO PUSH BIDEN ON GUN CONTROL — In a letter shared exclusively with ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN, a coalition of prominent former Democratic officials along with Gabrielle Giffords’ gun safety group and the Center for American Progress are pressing the incoming Biden administration to take sweeping action to address gun violence.
Signatories include former Rep. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, former Virginia Gov. TERRY McAULIFFE, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary JULIAN CASTRO, Obama administration Senior Adviser VALERIE JARRETT, Center for American Progress CEO NEERA TANDEN, former White House Press Secretary JOE LOCKHART and former Rep. TOM PERRIELLO.
Among the list of actions they’re demanding Biden take are: directing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to create a rule banning untraceable, DIY firearms known as “ghost guns”; directing the Justice Department to prioritize grant funding for community violence interruption programs; and creating a White House task force on gun violence prevention.
They want to make sure the issue of gun violence isn’t completely overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and are making sure to highlight how the two crises overlap.
“Folks are facing enormous challenges with economic disparities and learning gaps now and mental health,” McAuliffe told Alice. “So we’ve got to get on top of this, because two thirds of gun deaths are from suicide. We need to take immediate action and realize that this is a public health crisis.
TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: ‘OBVIOUSLY’ IT LOOKS LIKE BIDEN WON — ROBERT O’BRIEN pledged in an interview with Steve Clemons at CSIS’ Global Security Forum to work with Biden’s transition and acknowledged that it seemed Biden had won the election. “If the Biden-Harris ticket is determined to be the winner — and obviously things look that way now — we’ll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council,” O’Brien said in an interview last week, a recording of which was made public on Monday.
Trump’s previous national security advisers, JOHN BOLTON and H.R. McMASTER, have gone further than O’Brien, decrying Trump’s false claim that he won the election.
NO, THE STATE DEPARTMENT ISN’T WITHHOLDING BIDEN’S MESSAGES: A person with knowledge of the transition process tells Nahal Toosi that, contrary to earlier reports, the State Department has not been sitting on a flood of congratulatory messages from world leaders to Biden. The messages have been getting handed over to the Biden transition team, the person said. Ned Price, a spokesman for the Biden transition team, declined to comment.
SEC HEAD TO DEPART — JAY CLAYTON, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s chairman, will step down at the end of the year, about six month before his term is up, KELLIE MEJDRICH reports. Clayton’s departure was expected after he told the House Financial Services Committee this summer that he wanted to return to New York.
… But Trump hasn’t stopped hiring. COREY STEWART, a Virginia Republican operative, started on Monday as the principal deputy assistant secretary for export administration at the Commerce Department, three people familiar with the matter told DANIEL LIPPMAN. When reached for comment, Stewart, an international trade lawyer, declined to confirm his new job other than to say the reporter was “a nice guy.” Stewart was the Virginia state co-chair of the 2016 Trump campaign until he was fired for protesting in front of the Republican National Committee headquarters in October 2016.
Stewart, who lost the 2018 Virginia Senate race to incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine, has also drawn controversy for statements defending the state’s Confederate heritage.
MICHELLE WEIGHS IN — In the caption of an Instagram post this afternoon, MICHELLE OBAMA urged “all Americans, especially our nation’s leaders,” to encourage a peaceful transition, recalling her own pain and disappointment after Trump beat HILLARY CLINTON four years ago.
Emily Murphy appears to be starting the hunt for her next job (ABC News)
How Biden might reshape the Department of Homeland Security (The New York Times)
A brief guide to Biden’s former aides on K Street (The Wall Street Journal)
More potential Biden picks for EPA, Energy, Interior (The Washington Post)