Bernie Sanders makes a play for Biden Labor secretary

Bernie Sanders makes a play for Biden Labor secretary

“Right now I’m focusing on seeing Biden get elected president,” he told POLITICO. “That is my main focus.”

Former Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said Sanders had not spoken directly to anyone in the Biden campaign about a future role but plans to get Biden, his former Senate colleague, to cast “progressive votes” in both transition and to be involved in a potential new government.

Two other people close to Sanders, including a former aide, said the senator had expressed an interest in membership should Biden win in November. Sanders has campaigned in part for the top position in the Labor Department by reaching out to allies on the transition team, said a person familiar with the process.

When asked about Sanders’ potential role, a spokesman for the Biden transition team reiterated the transition inventory line: “You don’t make hiring decisions before the election”.

Since Sanders closed his second bid for the Democratic nomination earlier this year, he has thrown his support behind Biden and started the campaign path for him in Michigan and New Hampshire. He has worked with him to create “Unity Task Forces” to make recommendations on all aspects of health, concern about climate change and step onto the stage of the National Democratic Convention to urge progressives to support the former Vice President.

“He’s 100 percent in Joe Biden’s court,” Shakir said. “We have a good working relationship with the Biden team and I expect we will keep this up until the end.”

Through this collaboration, Shakir said, Sanders was able to influence both political and personal discussions among Biden Transition staff.

“It would be great to have a unity government that takes into account that progressives are a pretty healthy part of the electorate,” he said. “That would be good to be aware of, but if Joe Biden wins, he has a right to be mandated to move in the direction he has chosen.”

News of Sander’s interest in the job is sure to cheer the democratic left, which is pushing for progressives to take on leadership roles in a potential Biden government.

“He would be great,” said Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.

Having Sanders in a senior position could also help offset the dismay at more moderate decisions – or even a Republican – that Biden’s team is already considering moving to other positions in the administration.

Sanders could also find support from the labor movement, where union officials expect some influence over Biden’s election to lead the DOL.

The Vermont Senator, who throughout his decades of career has called for legislation to raise the minimum wage and make workers easier to organize, has received significant support from local unions and ordinary members of the Democratic Primary Race in 2016, as with most of the Major National Unions endorsed his rival Hillary Clinton.

In 2020, many major unions endorsed the “Medicare for All” proposal signed by Sanders, which would replace private insurance with a national payer system, and said the policy would help workers focus their bargaining power on wages and conditions rather than health benefits . When some unions spoke out against the policy, saying they did not trust the new state insurance program to provide as solid benefits as the private plans they had negotiated to secure, Sanders added a provision empowering the National Labor Relations Board Make sure employers save what you would reinvested on employee wages and other health insurance benefits.

“Apparently he has earned a lot of trust from workers across the country over the past few years,” said a union official.

The official added that joining a Biden administration could help 79-year-old Sanders build a legacy – “being able to rebuild the economy in a way that works for working Americans after this pandemic”.

One person close to Sanders agreed that Sanders sees an opportunity to achieve long-standing political goals for the working class under Biden, adding, “He really believes Biden wants to be a Roosevelt-like president.”

The Democratic presidential candidate made work a priority during his presidential campaign, stressing the need to strengthen and expand the right to unionize and rebuild the American middle class. It’s an area where he’s pretty progressive and generally agrees with Sanders who, as a presidential candidate, pledged to double union membership if he is elected.

Still, it could be an uphill battle for Sanders to secure the nomination from Labor or another agency, also because Vermont Republican Phil Scott could appoint a temporary successor to his Senate seat.

Unlike other state governors who are allowed to nominate successors for the remainder of the term, Vermont law would require Scott to hold a special election within six months of the vacancy. But even if Scott is given the opportunity to fill Sanders’ seat with a GOP legislator on short notice, it could potentially undermine control of the Senate, depending on the results of the November election.

Others see Sander’s stubborn independence as a potential liability.

“Because of the way he works and the way he works with other people, there’s no chance” that he will be won over to the job, said a person close to Sanders. “He’s a lonely ranger, fault.”

Other names known for the labor secretary in a Biden administration include Bill Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO and economics professor at Howard University; Sharon Block, a DOL and Obama White House veteran who is now executive director of the Labor and Worklife program at Harvard University; Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Former Union Organizer and Director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth; and Seth Harris, the former assistant secretary of labor in the Obama administration.

There was also some discussion about Biden’s wanting to appoint a union representative to his cabinet, possibly at the top of the DOL or the Department of Education.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.


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