Biden’s Transition Team Isn’t a “Team” and It’s Not Promising Much of a Transition

Photograph Source: Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA – CC BY 2.0

On September 5th, Joe Biden added four new members to his transition team, which was not really a team. It consisted only of Ted Kaufman, the 81-year old Democratic senator from Delaware. Considering Kaufman’s reputation as a deficit hawk and his advanced age, Biden had to cover his left flank and give the appearance of diversity.

Nobody would see his choices as going overboard. There’s only one new member who has the appearance of being progressive enough to get Bernie Sanders salivating: New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. She’s a Mexican-American that Daily Kos described as “the TYPE of VP candidate that could rally all of us together — progressives, mainstream Dems, working class, suburbanites, people of color, etc. — to take back our country.”

Joe Monahan, who blogs about New Mexico politics, was less impressed. In an article that had hanging on her own petard, we learned of her disgust with Green New Deal type activists in the Democratic Party. “They’ve lost their minds. We’re the third-largest oil producer in the country. I’m going to get a benefit from that.” With fracking polluting the state’s water, a dubious benefit, Lujan blithely gave the green light to the oil and gas industry. The Santa Fe-New Mexican reported, “Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told an energy conference Tuesday that her administration aims to work with oil and gas on key issues, a message that appeared to delight industry representatives.”  This must have recommended her to Biden, who said the following in a Pittsburgh speech, “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking. No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”

To cover his African-American base, Biden named Louisiana House of Representative member Cedric Richmond, formerly the head of the Black Congressional Caucus and served as co-chair of Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. To show his proper anti-racist credentials, Richmond joined Jerrold Nadler in calling for a censure of Donald Trump in 2018 because of his “obscenity-laced racist remarks.”

While James Clymer and John Lewis got most of the credit for helping to tilt the scales in favor of Joe Biden in the South Carolina primary, Richmond was also instrumental in casting Bernie Sanders into oblivion. He joined them in denouncing calls for free public higher education as “irresponsible” because “there are no free lunches.” Like Lujan, Richmond has learned to cater to the needs of corporate polluters. Receiving $128,000 from chemical companies, he barely seemed interested what two constituents had to say. They came to Washington to get him to do something about a local plant generating chloroprene, a carcinogen that had cost numerous relatives’ lives. The Guardian reported on their reaction to the two-minute session with the hack politician: “Looking at his face, it didn’t really seem like he was interested. It was like he was trying to brush us off.” Richmond also gave The Guardian a brush off:

The congressman, who declined interview requests, also declined to provide evidence of correspondence related to the plant. He also declined to answer a list of detailed questions despite multiple requested deadline extensions. Shortly after receiving the Guardian’s questions, Richmond’s communications director, Jalina Porter, blocked both authors of this article on social media.

The other two choices were straight out of the traditional Democratic Party corporate, neoliberal bag, who backed up Biden’s promise to rich donors that “Nothing would fundamentally change” if he’s elected.

Nobody symbolizes the status quo better than Jeffrey Zients, who served as head of Barack Obama’s National Economic Council. Jeffrey St. Clair summed him up in a 2013 CounterPunch article:

Well, he was a top executive at Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, plotting takeovers, mass firings, raids on pensions and de-unionization of factories. He did so well at this grim job that his net worth now tops $100 million. One might view this appointment as an act of casual sadism, rubbing salt in the wounds of progressives. But the Left is so moribund, so deeply immured in a political coma that the insult didn’t even prompt the slightest protest, not even a vestigial yelp for old time’s sake.

With a background like that, no wonder Obama’s VP would reserve a seat at the table for him.

Then, there is Anita Dunn, who was Obama’s Communications Director in 2009. Once her job ended, she joined a PR firm called SKDKnickerbocker that hoped to connect the Obama administration to the wealthy clients they represented. One of them was TransCanada Corp., the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that enraged American Indians and environmentalists. Obama eventually dropped support for the pipeline but only after oil prices crashed in 2014. Dunn also did PR consulting for NSO, the Israeli spyware firm former Israeli intelligence officers founded. NSO created the infamous Pegasus tool that repressive governments have used against Indian, Mexican and Saudi journalists. The Saudis reportedly used Pegasus to keep track of Jamal Khashoggi.

Let me conclude this dreary tour with the aforementioned Senator Ted Kaufman. The Nation warned Biden about taking advice from a deficit hawk. John Nichols wrote:

Unfortunately, even as the candidate was putting the finishing touches on his speech, creating doubts about whether the nominee is prepared to match words with deeds.. “When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” longtime Biden aide Ted Kaufman told The Wall Street Journal in an article published Wednesday, the third day of the convention. “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about Covid-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.”

Odd that The Nation would be so worried since Bernie Sanders is ready to take the word of Joe Biden, who told him that he could become the most progressive president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sanders added, “He understands the severity of this moment.” Right, that’s why he named such a bunch of sleazy bastards to his transition team.

Let’s catch up with “the squad.” They must be more willing to take on such an utter disregard for the growing power of the “class-struggle” wing of the Democratic Party.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, their standard-bearer, might have spent her two minutes of fame nominating Bernie Sanders at the DP convention but don’t assume that she will dig in her heels at Biden’s transition team. Someone like her, committed to realigning the Democratic Party, has to be more “political”, just like Bayard Rustin, who backed seating the Mississippi racists at the 1964 convention rather than the Freedom Democrats.

A. O-C has been relatively quiet about Biden ever since serving on the climate change panel that Sanders and Biden set up. With Biden sticking to his guns on fracking, it’s probably better that she pretended she didn’t hear him. On the other hand, she was ecstatic over Ed Markey’s victory, whose support for a Green New Deal earned her endorsement. Then again, being for a Green New Deal comes easy, even for Joe Biden, who “believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” So what if he puts people on his transition team that gives frackers carte blanche in New Mexico or do PR for TransCanada. As Bernie Sanders said, “He understands the severity of this moment.”

There was not much to expect from Ayanna Pressley, one of the squad’s lesser-known members, who voted to oppose BDS last summer. There was probably no good reason to include her in the squad in the first place, and even less now. When Biden picked Kamala Harris as his VP running mate, Pressley was exuberant. “Throughout her career, she has been unafraid, an inspiration to millions of women who see themselves in her. As our vice presidential nominee, Kamala is making history.” Before long, there will be little difference between Pressley and any other “progressive.” Despite the hopes of realignment advocates like A. O-C, the DP is likely using them rather than vice versa.

Showing an affinity for Orwell’s doublethink, Rashida Tlaib promised to deliver her district to Biden, but hasn’t endorsed him. According to the Detroit News, Tlaib has been talking to Biden’s team for weeks, but wants him to come to her district and talk about problems like water shutoffs and pollution. I don’t know why should have any great expectations since former Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder has endorsed Joe Biden. Was there something that Snyder, the man most responsible for Flint’s toxic water, saw that Tlaib could not?

Ilhan Omar, arguably the most radical squad member, is also on the Biden bandwagon. Along with other elected Muslim elected officials like Keith Ellison, Omar signed an open letter that asserted, “We anticipate that a Biden administration would provide Muslim American communities platforms to speak on issues affecting us, represent us within the administration and in policymaking discourses.” How that squares with his intervention to keep the word “occupation” out of the official Democratic platform is anybody’s guess.

Over the past month or so, I have seen countless warnings from Facebook friends about the need to “stop fascism,” with some arguing that the election will be as pivotal as the 1932 election was for Germans. There are analogies to be drawn with the Weimar Republic but not one that Biden supporters grasp.

In 1932, the Social Democrats backed Paul Von Hindenburg, who did have some similarities with Joe Biden as a “lesser evil.” Like the Democratic Party, they cut deals with the rightwing opposition parties to stay in power. In effect, they were the Clinton and Obamas of their day. In 1928, the Socialists were part of a coalition government that allowed the SP Chancellor Hermann Müller to carry out what amounted to the same sell-out policies that centrist DP presidents like Clinton and Obama made infamous.

For example, the SP’s campaign program included free school meals, but when Müller’s rightwing coalition partners demanded that the government abandon free meals to fund rearmament, Müller caved in.

Another example was his failure to tackle the horrible impact of the worldwide depression. When there was a crying need to pay benefits to the unemployed, whose numbers had reached 3 million, Müller could not persuade his rightwing partners to provide the necessary funding. Their answer was to cut taxes. If this sounds like exactly the nonsense we have been going through with the Clinton and Obama administrations, you are right. The German SP had zero interest in confronting the capitalist class. That task logically belonged to the Communists, but the ultra-left lunacy mandated by Joseph Stalin made the party ineffective—or worse. When workers grew increasingly angry at SP ineptitude, it is no surprise that the most backward layers gravitated to Hitler.

The Müller government’s ineffectiveness led to a political crisis and its replacement by Heinrich Brüning’s Center Party. Brüning then rolled back all wage and salary increases as part of a Herbert Hoover type economic strategy. Austerity led only to a deepening of the economic crisis and political turmoil. Eventually, Brüning stepped down and allowed President Paul von Hindenburg to take over. And not long after he took over, he succumbed to Nazi pressure (like knocking down an open door) and allowed Hitler to become Chancellor.

Now we are in a period hardly resembling the final days of the Weimar Republic. The good news is that a fascist takeover is highly unlikely since parliamentary democracy is more than adequate to keep the working class under control. On the other hand, the bad news is that the left is so inconsequential and the trade unions so weak that there is no need for fascism.

But who knows? Another decade or so of declining wages and cops killing Black people might precipitate the rise of a left party that has learned to avoid the reformist stupidity of the German SP and the suicidal ultra-leftism of the Stalinists. It is highly likely that people hostile to Howie Hawkin’s campaign today will find a way to argue for continuing DP support when that moment arrives. Instead of the lesser evil, let’s opt for the greater good.

Louis Proyect blogged at and was the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviewed films for CounterPunch.