Progressives Pushing on Executive Appointments? Scandal!

Robert Borosage

 

While Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown stump across the country for Hillary Clinton, they are also spearheading progressive efforts to influence key appointments in a future Clinton administration. Following Warren’s dicta that “personnel is policy,” progressive groups are compiling lists of qualified candidates for key economic and regulatory posts, while gearing up to jam the Wall Street to Washington revolving door.

This naturally makes Wall Street apoplectic.

Roger Lowenstein, reporter turned investment banker, spewed out an incoherent rant against Warren in a New York Times op-ed. The heads of the Third Way, a Wall Street funded message shop, fretted that Clinton might fill her administration with “progressive conformists.” The Washington Post editors raised the specter of a progressive “blacklist.”

How dare progressive organize around appointments for a president they have helped to elect? Ominous, impudent. Who the hell do they think they are? Wall Street bankers?

Progressives aren’t inventing something new, they are just getting into a game that Wall Street, among others, has already mastered. In 2009, Senator Dick Durbin told the simple truth about Wall Street’s hold on Washington: “They run the place.” Now, WikiLeaks release of the Podesta emails documents what he was talking about.

In October 2008, as progressives groups across the country were working 24/7 to turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Citibank’s Michael Froman was working with the Obama transition teams to detail a “long spreadsheet” of approved potential nominees for cabinet and sub-cabinet positions. In an email released by Wikileaks, Froman instructs, “If you could all take a quick look at the lists for the agencies in your area, that would be helpful. I think the hope is that, while there are no guarantees, some of the people on these lists might make their way into the agencies ultimately.”

Froman was also clearly tasked with helping Obama fill out names for his cabinet. An earlier October email from Froman suggests Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State or head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Another recommends Eric Holder for Attorney General or White House Counsel.

Froman embodies the revolving door. After serving in the Clinton administration, he moved to Citigroup with Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, where they helped lead the bank to the verge of collapse. As Pam and Russ Martens of Wall Street in Review note, “When Froman sent his email, Citigroup was in the midst of receiving what would become the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history.” When Obama was elected, Froman joined the White House staff, eventually becoming the US Trade Representative, helping to finalize negotiations on the TransPacific Partnership deal.

Holder, of course, did serve as Attorney General, earning infamy for failing to prosecute any of Wall Street’s top bankers for what the FBI called the “epidemic of fraud” that ended in financial collapse that ushered in the Great Recession. Obama notoriously staffed Treasury and his regulatory agencies with “Street friendly” officials, who insured that the banks would get bailed out, even as the homeowners they defrauded were left to sink.

Under Warren’s leadership, progressives began to object. A range of groups mobilized to block Larry Summers’ nomination to head the Federal Reserve, leading to the deservedly praised appointment of Janet Yellin. Warren led the effort to block the appointment of Antonio Weiss, a Wall Street investment banker, to a Treasury position for which he had scant qualification.

And now, Sanders, Warren and Brown are working with progressive groups like the Roosevelt Institute and the Center for Economic and Policy Research to compile lists of true reformers for key cabinet, sub-cabinet and regulatory positions. They are also warning Clinton’s people directly against more revolving door appointments.

A January 2015 email released by Wikileaks, Clinton speechwriter Dan Schwerin reports on meeting with Warren aide Dan Geldon who was “intently focused on personnel issues” and “laid out a detailed case against the Bob Rubin school of Democratic policy makers.” Warren had apparently already begun suggesting potential nominees directly to Clinton.

 

The Washington Post editors find this appalling. They claim not to object to “the lobbying,” but to “litmus tests” that include “adherence to the Democratic Party platform,” and “avoidance of any connection to the financial industry –notwithstanding whatever expertise it might confer.”

This is preposterous. Why shouldn’t Democratic Senators – with the power of advice and consent on cabinet and other nominees – insist that the nominees uphold the platform the party and the newly elected president just drafted and endorsed. Or, horrors, after the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression, shouldn’t the Senators cast a skeptical eye at a new gaggle of Wall Street emissaries.

In fact, the Post editors have it wrong. Progressive groups aren’t ruling out those with “any connection to the financial industry” out of hand. They are spending the time looking for true reformers, people with expertise who will enforce the law, crack down on the frauds and evasions, and revive our moribund regulatory agencies. They are nominating economists who understand the need for jobs and growth, not Wall Street’s fixation on austerity. They want officials who will work to expand Social Security and Medicare, not privatize or cut them.

Both the Post and Lowenstein suggest that progressives verge on becoming “usurpers of presidential power.” This is simply risible. Clinton will make her own choices. Progressives are simply making sure she knows ahead of time that there are alternatives to the slates of Wall Street and corporate lobbyists. And they are putting her on notice that they will push hard to make certain she appoints those who will fight to fulfill the promises she made on the campaign trail.

Warren, Sanders, Brown, Merkley and their progressive allies aren’t threatening the future president; they are acting in her best interests. And they should be applauded for weighing in on an appointment process that has been disgracefully been dominated for too long by the Wall Street wing of the party.

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