Politics

'He needs to earn our trust:' Progressive groups begin push for Biden to keep Wall Street out of the White House

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Key Points
  • Progressive groups that haven often been aligned with Bernie Sanders are pushing Joe Biden to keep Wall Street executives and business leaders from being part of his administration if he wins the presidency. 
  • The progressive groups who spoke with CNBC said that if Biden does not follow these guidelines, he could suffer from low voter turnout in the general election and end up losing to Trump. 
  • One group is putting together opposition research against business leaders who are backing Biden's campaign. 
Senator Bernie Sanders joins former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren onstage before the start at the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 12, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters

Progressive groups that haven often been aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders are pushing Joe Biden to keep Wall Street executives and business leaders from being part of his administration if he wins the presidency. 

While the former vice president has said he has not started speaking with possible members of his potential cabinet, he recently told donors that he has been discussing with his advisors who he would ask to join his administration. Biden is currently in the process of considering candidates to be his vice presidential running mate. 

After Sanders dropped out of the race Wednesday, several progressive groups signed a letter to Biden calling on him to pledge that he will not appoint leaders on Wall Street and K-Street, or those in the fossil fuel and health care industries to campaign advisory roles or to cabinet posts.

The letter, which can be found here, also calls on Biden to assign people who endorsed Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another progressive, to be co-chairs of his prospective transition team. The groups also urge him to appoint advisors such as Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor who is an advocate for the "Green New Deal," to his National Economic Council. Stiglitz was reportedly on a list of advisors being pushed to Hillary Clinton by Warren in 2014 before the former secretary of State ran for president. 

The groups signing the letter to Biden include Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and NextGen Action. 

The progressive groups who spoke with CNBC said that if Biden does not follow these guidelines, he could suffer from low voter turnout in the general election and end up losing to Trump. One group is putting together opposition research against business leaders who are backing Biden's campaign. 

"He needs to earn our trust," Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, told CNBC. "Personnel is policy, it's where the rubber meets the road in terms of your values and commitments."

Biden, for his part, seems to be trying to appeal to many of Sanders' supporters. He rolled out a plan on Thursday that would lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60 from 65, while also bolstering his student debt forgiveness plan hours after the Department of Labor released new data showing 6.6 million people filed initial jobless claims last week as the economy reels from the coronavirus.

Our Revolution, a 501(c)(4) organization founded by Sanders himself that backed his 2020 run for president told CNBC it is opposed to executives from the finance industry of becoming policy advisors to Biden now that he is the apparent nominee. The group did not sign the letter, but is looking into approaching his campaign. Sanders has been openly opposed to leaders in the finance industry playing any role in campaigns and in administrations. 

"That's certainly not what we want to see," said Paco Fabian, Our Revolution's campaigns director. "I think it just increases the probability that their policy positions are the ones that get implemented and not the ones the folks on the progressive spectrum would be pushing for." 

"At some point we probably will," when asked if they plan to reach out to the Biden campaign. "We haven't figured out the best way to do that and the main issues we are going to engage with the Biden campaign on." 

Another group has started putting together opposition research on a host of Biden donors who work on Wall Street. The Revolving Door Project, which is part of the  progressive think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has put together a research packet on Mark Gallogly, the co-founder of investment firm Centerbridge Partners, said the group's executive director, Jeff Hauser. 

Gallogly has been helping Biden with fundraising for part of the election cycle and some donors have been privately discussing the idea of him being one of his economic advisors if he makes it into the White House.  The opposition research cites reporting from CNBC, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Politico among others. It focuses on Gallogly's ties to Biden and reports on his firm's business ties to Puerto Rico. 

Hauser noted that Jeffrey Zients, a former economic advisor to President Barack Obama who became the president of the Cranemere Group, and Tony James, the executive vice chairman at Blackstone, are two Biden supporters they are looking to do research on. 

"I expect progressives have their own sort of critiques on how government works but less on revolvers, which they'll pick up from the research we do," Hauser said. 

NextGen America, a super PAC founded and funded by billionaire Tom Steyer that has an army of grassroots get-out-the-vote activists, believes that in order for Biden to appeal to young voters he's going to have to make some compromises. 

"We're going to work our ass off to get young people to the polls in November. You can throw all the money and time into that problem, but if you don't have a willing partner it's not going to be as effective as it could be," said Ben Wessel, the group's executive director. 

A Biden spokesman did not return a request for comment.