What would Biden's White House economic team look like? Here are some key contenders

Key Points
  • Despite a deep bench of economic advisors to Biden's campaign, Wall Street speculators have drummed up a list of policymakers who could appear in the White House if the Democrat wins in November.
  • The cast ranges from progressive favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren to equitability economist Heather Boushey.
  • Longtime Biden confidant Jared Bernstein is also thought to be a top choice, while others speculate that Fed Governor Lael Brainard could be on the short list.
Democratic presidential hopefuls Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden shake hands as they arrive onstage for the third Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Despite an uncertain economic outlook and a diverse array of advisors on Joe Biden's economic team, Wall Street speculators and Beltway wonks have nonetheless drummed up a list of policymakers who could play roles in a potential Biden White House.

The cast ranges from progressive favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren to equitability economist Heather Boushey. Longtime Biden confidant Jared Bernstein is also thought to be a top contender for a role, while others speculate that Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard could be on the short list.

CNBC reached out to several economists and politicians who reportedly are advising the Biden campaign. All declined to offer comment for this story and on their interactions with the campaign.

The economy — along with the coronavirus crisis itself — are likely to be Biden's top priorities should he defeat President Donald Trump in November. The former vice president holds a lead of approximately 7 percentage points in polling averages and narrowly edges Trump in several swing-state polls.

The U.S. unemployment rate is still over 8%, more than 13 million American workers continue to receive unemployment benefits, and Covid-19 remains far from contained and could rebound this fall as people spend more time indoors.

So whom Biden chooses to lead the White House's economic policy will likely have more impact than usual for a newly elected president.

"Steven Mnuchin emerged as the key negotiator between House Democrats and the White House, and demonstrated the key role the secretary of Treasury can play," wrote Tom Block, policy analyst at FundStrat Global Advisors. "If VP Biden wins, getting the economy back on track will undoubtedly be his highest priority."

Here some of the people considered to be leading candidates for economic roles in a potential Biden administration.

Elizabeth Warren

No conversation about Biden's future Cabinet would be complete without a mention of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose crusader-like devotion to holding Wall Street accountable has made her something of a progressive icon.

Though she was among Biden's challengers in the Democratic primary, her deep knowledge of the U.S. financial system and bankruptcy law makes her a compelling contender for Treasury secretary. She and Biden now reportedly hold regular phone calls to discuss policy. Biden has touted Warren-endorsed ideas ranging from topics such as personal bankruptcy and expanding Social Security to ending student-loan debt for millions.

But a key force that could potentially doom Warren's appointment to lead the Treasury is her indisputable value to Democrats as a senator.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers a campaign speech at East Los Angeles College on March 2, 2020 in Monterey Park, California.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

Even if Biden wins the White House, the composition of the Senate is far less certain and Democrats may be hard-pressed to surrender Warren's seat. The situation is further complicated given that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is a Republican, meaning that he could nominate another member of the GOP to fill Warren's Senate seat should she accept a role in the Cabinet.

"I believe whom [Biden] picks could be determined by which party controls the Senate," Fundstrat's Block wrote in an email. "If Republicans maintain control, just like Mnuchin worked well with House Democrats, Biden will need a [Treasury] secretary who can work with Senate Republicans."

"Senator Warren may not fit that profile," Block added.

Lael Brainard

Another name tossed around in conversations about Biden's short list for Treasury secretary is Lael Brainard, a current member of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors.

As one of just five members on the Fed's board, Brainard has become a key lieutenant to Chairman Jerome Powell thanks to her deep knowledge of fiscal and monetary policy. Her comments on the state of the economy, though not as frequent as those of other Fed officials, nonetheless carry weight on Wall Street and among fellow policymakers.

Lael Brainard, governor of the U.S. Federal Reserve with Fed Governors, Jerome Powell and Stanley Fischer.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Respect for her outlook comes both from her time at the Fed and after her tenure as the United States undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs until 2013 during one of the most turbulent times in modern U.S. economics. She served as deputy national economic advisor and deputy assistant to the president from 1998 to 2000.

Her appointment to the Treasury Department's top job could also prove politically savvy: It would spare the Biden administration from risking Warren's Senate seat without irking either centrist or progressive Democrats.

She has "broad experience with international financial issues [and] would be first female Treasury secretary," wrote Charles Myers, chairman of Signum Global Advisors. She'd "bring a more centrist approach without alienating progressives."

Meg Whitman

Though not necessarily a contender for Treasury secretary, Quibi CEO Meg Whitman could prove one of Biden's more centrist Cabinet picks. Whitman, a longtime Republican and former California gubernatorial candidate, is experienced in the technology and media sectors. That could make her a compelling pick to lead the Commerce Department.

Whitman has led a number of companies in the private sector, including as CEO of both eBay and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. She was an executive at the Walt Disney Company in the 1980s. 

Meg Whitman of Quibi at CES
Source: CNBC

A senior advisor to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, Whitman has allies on both sides of the political aisle and could make a good liaison for U.S. business interests.

During an interview with CNBC in August, Whitman criticized the Trump administration and praised portions of Biden's economic plans, including modest tax increases. She also skirted a question from host David Faber on whether she'd accept a role in a Biden White House, saying she enjoys her time in the private sector.

"A Republican who campaigned for Clinton in 2016, Whitman, CEO of Quibi, is supporting Biden's campaign and spoke at the Democratic National Convention," Myers wrote. "Biden would use her as an example of 'reaching across the aisle.'"

Meg Whitman on why she favors Joe Biden's economic plan
Meg Whitman on why she favors Joe Biden's economic plan

Jared Bernstein

Economist Jared Bernstein is thought to be almost assured a position in a Biden administration should he accept.

Bernstein was a top economic advisor to the vice president during the Obama White House and continues to advise Biden on the campaign trail. His expertise in income inequality, class mobility and other employment outcomes makes him a good fit for either the National Economic Council or the Council of Economic Advisors.

Jared Bernstein
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Bernstein testified before the U.S. Joint Economic Committee in late July that Covid-19 and its economic impact has hit certain demographics harder than others and advised Congress to factor that in to subsequent relief packages.

"While most Americans are experiencing some extent of these problems, they are particularly acute for persons and communities of color," he said in his remarks. 

"Congress can once again throw struggling people, places, and businesses the lifeline they need to make it to other side of this crisis," he added. "Along with uninterrupted enhanced UI benefits, I've argued for increased nutritional support, state and local fiscal relief, and help for smaller, more vulnerable businesses. Shortchanging such temporary fiscal relief due to deficit concerns would be, I have argued, highly misguided."

Heather Boushey

Heather Boushey has become a regular briefer to the Biden campaign as the Democratic Party moves leftward into more progressive policies. 

Boushey is one of Washington's leading voices in labor and workplace reform, and much of her work centers on how best to improve women's economic outcomes: Fighting wage discrimination and ensuring paid family leave.

Her works, including a 2017 essay for The Hamilton Project, are dotted with citations to some of the globe's premier labor and inequality economists, including Harvard University's Raj Chetty, who is also said to be advising the Biden campaign; Brown University's John Friedman and University of California at Berkeley's Emmanuel Saez.

Heather Boushey, Executive Director and Chief Economist, Equitable Growth, gives remarks, at The White House Summit on The United State of Women.
Cheriss May | NurPhoto | Getty Images

A key common thread to Boushey's work is an argument against the notion that legislation that benefits marginalized demographics, e.g., the working class, racial minorities and women, is bad for the economy and leads to market inefficiencies.

Fairer and modernized labor laws, she argues, would not only benefit those groups, but in turn would benefit the broader national economy.

"Despite the central role women play in the U.S. economy, our labor laws and institutions do little to address the various ways in which women are held back at work," Boushey wrote in 2017. "This not only hampers women's economic well-being, but also has implications for U.S. productivity, labor force participation, and economic growth."

Tom Nides

A former member of the Obama administration, Tom Nides later turned to a career on Wall Street after his time in the State Department.

Nides, former deputy secretary of State under President Barack Obama and currently an executive at Morgan Stanley, has the experience to be a potential strong representative for U.S. trade interests in a Biden White House.

Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley Tom Nides speaks on stage during the 2015 Concordia Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on October 2, 2015 in New York City.
Leigh Vogel | Getty Images

As the deputy secretary of State for Management and Resources, he was a close advisor to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Those who hold that position often focus on U.S. foreign aid and diplomatic issues overseas. 

Nides is a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, where he focuses on the firm's global clients. Nides has relationships with business leaders around the world, including being close to many on Wall Street.

He's been a staunch financial supporter of many Democrats who ran for president in 2020, including Joe Biden himself, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

"Currently Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, Nides has deep experience in banking and in the government," Myers wrote, noting his trade and State Department experience in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Richard Cordray

Richard Cordray, the first and former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, may have a chance to return to Washington from his native Ohio if Biden wins in November. 

Richard Cordray, director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Getty Images

A longtime ally of Warren's, Cordray is considered one of the nation's top financial watchdogs and an expert on banking law.

When he was Ohio's attorney general, he helped lead a suit against Bank of America in 2009 that alleged that the bank's executives worked to conceal information about Merrill Lynch's deteriorating financials ahead of a shareholder vote on their merger.

"Cordray is a critic of corporate power and saw his jurisdiction as Director be minimized over time following various court battles," wrote Aidan Smith, a lead researcher at left-leaning Data For Progress. "Cordray has notably stated that America 'must supplement [its] base political and legal equality with some more robust measures of economic equality and economic rights as well.'"

"In the wake of the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Cordray has sounded the alarm on both the current and impending consumer debt crisis and proposed measures to rein in what he describes as 'vehement' debt collectors," Smith added.

Cordray left the CFPB in 2017 as the Trump administration looked for ways to erode the bureau's influence and refocused his efforts on Ohio politics. He suffered a defeat at the hands of Gov. Mike DeWine in the state's 2018 gubernatorial election, but could find a new role in financial enforcement back in Washington with Biden in the White House.

— CNBC's Brian Schwartz contributed to this article.