Build Back WokerFebruary 25, 2021
Presented by the Bipartisan Policy Center & U.S. Chamber of Commerce
With help from Allie Bice and Sam Stein
Welcome to POLITICO’s 2021 Transition Playbook, your guide to the first 100 days of the Biden administration
As Democrats go, JOE BIDEN may be among the least woke — at least rhetorically. And, often, he hasn’t tried to hide it.
His Democratic primary campaign took pride in its un-wokeness. Campaign staff scoffed at rival primary candidates and reporters that used terms like “intersectionality” or other phrases popular with the left-wing of the party. They viewed it as forced and, to a large degree, out of touch with regular voters—including the very voters to whom that language was meant to appeal.
And they were right! He is, after all, president.
But now that Biden is in office, his administration is proving to be far more woke than the Biden primary campaign ever was.
The White House posted a video on Twitter and Instagram with climate adviser GINA McCARTHY discussing why “climate change is an intersectional issue.” His administration is working with the ACLU on an executive order that would allow “X” gender markers on passports and social security cards for nonbinary and intersex people. The “contact us” form on the White House website offers users the option to list their pronouns.
His United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency sent a memo to stop using the word “assimilation” and use “integration” instead. People who apply for green cards ought to be referred to as “customers,” BuzzFeed News reported. A comprehensive fact-sheet on the Biden transition after the inauguration boasted about the number of “Latinx” people in the Cabinet. The word “equality” is out and “equity” is in.
While Biden still pushes back on some policy ideas popular on the left like defunding the police, the tone and language of the new White House has pleasantly surprised the left-wing of the party.
“My goodness. What have we done?????,” EVAN WEBER, the co-founder and political director of Sunrise Movement, which gave Biden an “F” on his climate plan during the primary, tweeted last month about McCarthy’s video. “Please watch this remarkably good video from @Gina_McCarthy, put out on an official White House channel,” he said.
“This is the language of movement, the language of organizing, and the language of a new type of politics, which is intersectional movement politics,” said AIMEE ALLISON, the founder of She The People, a network of women of color.
“I think it’s a sign that Biden is trying to court and follow the people who voted for him but also did turnout efforts,” said NELINI STAMP, the national organizing director at the Working Families Party, which endorsed first ELIZABETH WARREN and then BERNIE SANDERS in the primary.
The shift has helped Biden pacify his left flank, early on, but has also become fodder for Republican attacks — particularly the administration’s efforts to promote equity.
If those attacks resonate, it could create headaches for the party in the future, one Democratic operative warned.
“If the general movement to language that is inaccessible to everyday workers continues, if we prioritize fancy language over policy progress, you can ensure that we will both lose policy advances, and elections, thus ending up moving backward,” said a senior adviser to a rival 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
The 78-year-old Biden’s personal embrace of the language has been bumpy at times. Speaking on Jan. 21 about signing his “Executive Order on Racial Equity,” Biden started to say “equality” before correcting himself and saying “equity.”
During the first debate last fall, he seemed to use the words interchangeably — though they represent two different ideas in progressive circles. "It's about equity and equality,” Biden said about race in America. "And we have never walked away from trying to require equity for everyone, equality for the whole of America.”
Do you work in the Biden administration? Are you in touch with the White House? Are you DAVID TURK? We want to hear from you — and we’ll keep you anonymous: [email protected]. Or if you want to stay really anonymous send us a tip through SecureDrop, Signal, Telegram, or Whatsapp here. You can also reach Alex and Theo individually if you prefer.
We want your tips, but we also want your feedback. What should be covering in this newsletter that we’re not? What are we getting wrong? Please let us know.
Did someone forward this to you? Subscribe here!
At Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where he attended a virtual meeting of the National Governors Association. He also commemorated 50 million vaccine shots administered earlier in the day. “This is not a victory lap,” he said. “Everything is not fixed. We have a long way to go.”
At a Giant supermarket pharmacy in Southeast Washington with ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, the District’s delegate to Congress, and District Health Commissioner LaQUANDRA NESBITT, to promote vaccination.
With the Center for Presidential Transition
XAVIER BECERRA, Biden’s nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department, attended the same high school and university as which Supreme Court justice: SANDRA DAY O’CONNOR, EARL WARREN, AMY CONEY BARRETT or ANTHONY KENNEDY?
(Answer is at the bottom.)
CLIMBING OUT OF A GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS — Treasury secretary JANET YELLEN urged nations in the G-20 to continue to support their respective economies through the pandemic, VICTORIA GUIDA reports. In a letter to G-20 counterparts published Thursday, Yellen wrote that countries should “continue to take significant fiscal and financial policy actions and avoid withdrawing support too early,” adding that, “if there was ever a time to go big, this is the moment.” Even if the U.S. is able to get control of the pandemic, the economic implications could be bad for years to come if other countries don’t fully recover.
Yellen also encouraged issuing more of the International Monetary Fund’s “special drawing rights,” which can be converted into a government-back currency by IMF members, to aid poorer countries.
TAI TO REVIEW U.K. TRADE TALKS — USTR nominee KATHERINE TAI said Thursday that she isn’t in a rush to wrap up trade talks with the U.K. despite a fast approaching deadline for the U.S. to finish the deal, DOUG PALMER and GAVIN BADE report.
The Trump administration began the talks with the U.K. in May 2020 but didn’t finish them before leaving office. The 2015 trade promotion authority expires on July 1, and the U.K. hopes to finish negotiations by then. At her confirmation hearing Thursday, Tai said “it will be important to me to review the progress and the conversations so far.”
RALLYING ‘ROUND RON — If you were on Twitter this afternoon (and, let’s be honest, you were), you may have noticed a steady stream of prominent Democratic operatives praising Biden chief of staff RON KLAIN. MARC ELIAS called him the “most competent, intelligent and decent person” to serve in the post in four-plus years, while XOCHITL HINOJOSA, former DNC communications director, said he was literally saving lives. Klain himself responded to one tweet and liked a couple of others.
Why the smattering of posts? Klain was the subject of an item in the Washington Post earlier in the day that questioned his handling of NEERA TANDEN’s nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget. The story was a variation of the one POLITICO ran a few days prior.
Klain has had an objectively good run so far. The president is popular. It looks like they’re gonna get a big ol’ Covid-relief bill. And the administration is getting its Cabinet in place, with, perhaps, one big exception.
But that exception is clearly sparking some circling of the wagons — around Tanden, but even more so, around Klain himself. The progressive group PCCC put out a statement on Thursday defending Klain from “anonymous attacks.” A search of the group’s past statements shows no press release defending Tanden.
SLOWLY BUT SURELY — The Senate confirmed JENNIFER GRANHOLM as Energy secretary today, pushing the number of confirmed Biden Cabinet members into double digits.
Granholm later tweeted: “As my mom would say, let’s get crackin’ on adding clean energy to the grid and creating those good paying jobs in communities that have been left behind!”
Granholm was confirmed by a comfortable margin — 64-35 — but the vote was still closer than any Cabinet member to date except for Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS.
Among the 14 Republicans who backed Granholm: Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL, who’s voted for every Biden Cabinet pick so far except Mayorkas.
REGRETS, I’VE HAD A FEW: While Biden’s Cabinet confirmation process has gone relatively smoothly, there have been some hiccups. Sen. JOHN KENNEDY (R-La.) apologized today for calling Biden's Interior Department nominee, Rep. DEB HAALAND (D-N.M.), a “whack job.”
Kennedy said he regretted the remark about Haaland, explaining that he was searching for another word before calling her “a neo-socialist, left-of-Lenin whack job,” BURGESS EVERETT reports.
NOBODY PUTS KATHERINE ON THE BACK BURNER — U.S. Trade Representative nominee KATHERINE TAI pushed back on senators’ concerns the Biden White House will “stand still” on trade policy during her confirmation hearing Wednesday, GAVIN BADE, STEVEN OVERLY and DOUG PALMER report.
“To the extent I have been privy to conversations or have been made aware of the Biden administration outlook, I don't expect, if confirmed, to be put on the back burner at all,” she said.
DISCLOSURE REVELATIONS: A newly public financial disclosure filed by LISA MONACO, Biden’s deputy attorney general nominee, reveals that she advised Boeing and the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank during her time at WestExec Advisors, the consulting firm co-founded by Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN that employed several Biden administration officials and nominees. Monaco also advised Lyft through her own consulting firm, LOM Strategies.
‘YOU WILL NEVER HAVE MORE CLOUT’ — JONATHAN ALLEN and AMIE PARNES’ new book about the Biden campaign, “Lucky,” includes details about how Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG came to endorse the man who’s Cabinet he now serves in, according to an excerpt obtained by Transition Playbook.
The day after Biden trounced Buttigieg in the South Carolina primary, Buttigieg had breakfast with President JIMMY CARTER. “You’ve run a brilliant campaign, the oldest living president began, but . . .,” Allen and Parnes wrote. Buttigieg heard only the “but.”
“In his own guileless way, he’s telling me to get out, Pete thought,” according to the book.
Buttigieg took a phone call that night from another former president, BARACK OBAMA, who nudged Buttigieg toward endorsing Biden: “‘Look, Pete, you will never have more clout than you do right now,’ Obama said.”
PROMISES, PROMISES — When Biden was running for president, he promised union members that he would be the “best friend labor has ever had in the White House.” But now that he’s in office, Biden is keeping his distance from the biggest union fight of his early presidency, REBECCA RAINEY and CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO report.
How Biden is wooing Republican governors (The Washington Post)
Administration officials have appeared on more than 70 local TV news stations to sell relief bill (Bloomberg News)
How much fun was CASS SUNSTEIN, the Harvard law professor who’s set to join Biden’s Homeland Security Department, in high school?
The day before graduation, CRAIG McARDLE, one of Sunstein’s classmates at the Middlesex School in Concord, Mass., asked Sunstein to play squash with him. Decades later, McArdle told the Harvard Crimson “that while sitting at his typewriter in his magazine-strewn room, Sunstein refused, declaring, ‘too much play and too little work makes Cass a dull boy.’”
“He had this weird thing where he’d be hunched over the typewriter kind of like GLENN GOULD over the piano,” McArdle recalled in 2009. “He’d type with one finger on each hand, incredibly fast. He’d just be concentrating, so focused, it was like somebody watching TV. You’d have to say [his name] several times to get his attention.”
Sunstein’s odd typing style and tendency to refer to himself in third person didn’t impede his romantic life, however.
Sunstein — who is now married to SAMANTHA POWER, Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development — was in many ways “kind of a chick magnet,” McArdle said, which he attributed to the fact that Sunstein “had this very innocent look and was bright.”
This one was too easy. It’s Becerra’s fellow Californian Anthony Kennedy. They both went to C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, Calif, and Stanford University. But Kennedy went to Harvard for law school, while Becerra settled for Stanford.
As California’s attorney general, Becerra later argued a case before Kennedy.