Over two years before the 2020 election, progressives began organizing to make sure we were ready to influence this process regardless of who became the Democratic candidate. These efforts were fueled in part by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s mantra that “Personnel is politicsAnd the growing awareness that the right people have the power to do it lower prices for prescription drugs, Modify or grant student loans, Putting billions of dollars into green energyand other powers of the executive branch to use Finish tasks for the American people.
We knew we had to do two things – in case progressive candidates were a viable choice, and then make the selection easier for the Biden Transition team.
To accomplish the first task, the Progressive Change Institute (the organization I co-founded) examined hundreds of individual positions to determine what skills and expertise were required, why the positions mattered, and what progressives in those agencies and offices could do if they exercised executive power. We released one 90 page report that became widespread with the progressive community.
With this research we have turned to our second task. We used open source software to create a custom database of over 9,000 administrative positions that can be synced with our recommended list. We then reached out to our allies throughout the movement asking them to nominate diverse, competent and recognized experts with a track record of results. Our database was possibly the most groundbreaking, allowing the groups to support the mutual nominations, giving the Biden team great support for specific recruiting.
Over 60 groups worked together in this database, including racial justice groups such as Color of Change and Liberation in a Generation. Climate leaders like Sunrise and Friends of the Earth; Interest groups such as Indivisible, MoveOn and People’s Action; Think tanks such as Demos and the Center for Economic and Political Research; Corporate watchmen like Public Citizen and Amazon Watch; and farming groups ranging from Family Farm Action to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. We also benefited collectively from the participation of regional groups nominating talented local experts who might otherwise have been overlooked by national efforts.
From this process the Progressive Change Institute developed a list of over 700 names (all visible at TransitionNames.com), which we consider a long-term list of future leadership. We presented the list to the Biden transition team with BIOS, the specific recommended positions and the list of organizations that endorsed each recommendation, showing a visible map of institutional and grassroots support behind each candidate.
An early challenge was that Talking topic, driven by big businessthat Biden had to hire corporate lobbyists to achieve his diverse management goal. We had to do the case differently. We have published our own list publicly – and reporting in The New York Times, Associated Press, abc news, Politicoand others helped counter-narrate this argument, showing that it was possible to hire both diverse and skilled staff based on civil service.
Different voices leaned into different areas throughout the movement. The revolving door project tracked and highlighted problematic potential candidates like Rahm Emanuel who raise the alarm in the media every day and help pave the way for important dates like Rahm Emanuel Janet Yellen for finance ministers and Ron Klain for the chief of staff (who was the preferred choice of the progressives in Biden’s inner circle). Native American activist Julian Noise Bravecat and an alliance of progressive and indigenous grassroots groups led a powerful and ultimately leading one successful campaign in support of Deb Haaland’s appointment as Home Secretary. Others played important roles Agency review teams. Organization and communication were central throughout the process.
Given the scale and scale of the effort, even members of Congress began to campaign publicly for under-the-radar appointments. For example, representatives Jamaal Bowman and Ayanna Pressley recently had one op-ed in support of Mehrsa Baradaran for Comptroller of the Currency, a relatively dark but critical position in the finance department.
As Biden turned to the sub-cabinet positions, in which we had invested most of our time and effort, we saw a deluge of success. Progressives celebrated the appointments of Rohit Chopra Head of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Bharat Ramamurti as deputy director in the National Economic Council, Julie Siegel as deputy chief of staff of the finance department, Maggie Thomas as chief of staff in the White House’s domestic climate policy and Sasha Baker as head of strategic planning in the National Security Council. Heather Boushey, Jared Bernstein, Joelle Gamble, Cecilia Rouse, Michael Linden and many others with progressive track records have been named key roles in business, work and climate.
It is clear that we have chosen the right year to take this point of view. Our movement is more powerful than ever, and Biden clearly wants it a relationship with progressives (Not to mention a successful presidency.) Our job was to make it easy for him and his team by bringing in the work and handing over highly skilled and diverse progressives on a silver platter. While the process is still ongoing and we certainly are not enthusiastic about any choice of BidenSo far there has been a lot to celebrate in many of the dates.
staff is Politics. This campaign marks a new moment of sophistication for progressives, a new understanding of executive power – and a new way to get results.