The new group provides the most insight so far into how a Biden administration would look — a mix of the left and the center with many veterans of the Obama administration, particularly those who served in the vice president’s office.
On the advisory board, for example, the president of the liberal think-tank The Roosevelt Institute, Felicia Wong, is paired with the more moderate, technocratic Pete Buttigieg. A Republican is on the board with Bob McDonald, the secretary of Veterans Affairs during the Obama administration and the former CEO of Procter & Gamble.
Of the eight new full-time hires — the board and co-chairs aren’t full-time positions — seven worked in the Obama administration.
The team also announced new co-chairs including New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Jeff Zients, former president Barack Obama’s National Economic Council director. Biden campaign advisers Anita Dunn and Cedric Richmond will join them but not formally begin their transition duties until after Election Day, the transition told POLITICO. Kaufman will also be a co-chair.
Zients’ selection will almost certainly face blowback from progressives given his business-friendly politics and deep ties in the finance industry. But the wealthy investor could also assure corporate America that Biden is not a Trojan horse for the left-wing as President Donald Trump’s campaign has claimed.
“Jeff is a staunch capitalist who was operating in an environment that was not consistently on the same page as he,” Josh Bolten, George W. Bush’s chief of staff and president of the Business Roundtable, told the Washington Post in 2018 of Zients’ time in the Obama administration.
David Segal, the co-founder and executive director of the left-wing group Demand Progress, told POLITICO that “there are several concerning figures named here.” He added that, “In general, and moreover in a populist moment, there’s no legitimate reason for Biden to elevate somebody as entrenched in the finance industry as Zients.”
A Biden transition official said that Zients was selected for his management abilities — he helped salvage HealthCare.gov — and his role is not overseeing policy.
Two of the full-time staff hires also have ties to the tech industry, which could draw criticism from the left. Cynthia Hogan, a longtime aide to Biden who helped in his vice presidential search, is a former lobbyist for Apple. Jessica Hertz, who worked at the Obama Justice Department, was most recently a director and associate general counsel at Facebook.
Progressives have had reasons to feel encouraged, however. Gautam Raghavan, the former chief of staff to Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and Julie Siegel, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office, were hired onto the transition earlier this summer.
The Biden team is potentially facing one of the most difficult transitions in American history with dueling public health and economic crises along with the uncertainty surrounding whether Trump will cooperate in a hand-off of power if he loses. The transition team also must do a lot of their work remotely amid the pandemic. Ultimately, the transition team would help an incoming Biden administration appoint over 4,000 people.
David Marchick, the director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service, said, “This is the most important transition since 1932 because it’s the biggest crisis since 1932.”