Warren Builds Clout With Biden Through Pipeline of Staff Picks


Joe Biden has shown little appetite for Elizabeth Warren’s trademark campaign proposal, a wealth tax, but she’s won something else from the president, as nearly a dozen of her allies and former aides have joined his administration.

The Massachusetts senator’s associates hold top posts at the White House and at federal agencies handling issues ranging from financial regulation to national security and climate change. The hires have helped assuage progressives concerned Biden isn’t sympathetic to their views, but have set off alarms in the banking and financial sector.

The influx of her staffers and allies into Biden’s orbit has been part of a conscious, multi-year plan by Warren and progressives to zero in on personnel picks when a Democrat next took the White House – an outgrowth of Warren’s belief in the Washington adage that personnel is policy. It is her most tangible imprint on the Biden administration so far, ensuring progressives have seats inside the White House.

Both the No. 2 official at Treasury, Wally Adeyemo, and the top deputy at the National Economic Council, Bharat Ramamurti, trace their Washington roots to Warren. Warren’s allies also hold posts at the National Security Council and at the Treasury, Education, Health and Energy Departments, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the White House office for climate change policy.

“Elizabeth Warren is the progressive politician most obsessed with the dark corners of the executive branch and figuring out how they can be used for tools for progressive outcomes,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project. “Warren has inspired a generation of political operatives who want to turn each and every corner of the executive branch into an engine for progressive outcomes.”

Warren Builds Clout With Biden Through Pipeline of Staff Picks

For Biden, who must navigate deep fissures in his own party, keeping Warren close could prove key to maintaining enthusiasm among progressives, who have demanded dramatic changes to U.S. economic and social policies. The Biden-Warren relationship now is a key test of whether the party can remain united against Republican attempts to take back the House and Senate in 2022 and the White House two years later.

Warren wrote in a 2013 Politico op-ed about the importance of influencing personnel decisions in the government.

“Transition is afoot in Washington, and if the right people go back and forth, the country will develop smarter, stronger rules. But if the wrong people make the shuffle, then Washington will be rigged even more for Wall Street — and every middle-class family will pay the consequences,” she wrote.

Through a spokesperson, she declined to be interviewed for this story.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain frequently speaks and texts with Warren, according to three people familiar with their exchanges, and she enjoys longstanding ties to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The two women met or spoke by phone 13 times between 2014 and 2017, while Yellen was chair of the Federal Reserve, a relationship that’s continued in the new administration.

They have spoken often since Yellen’s confirmation as Treasury secretary, according to a person familiar with their relationship.

The Democratic Party’s other prominent Senate progressive, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, is more of an outsider to the White House, which recently had to worry about his support for Biden’s nominee to lead his budget office.

In the early going, Warren can point to some successes. In addition to supporting the size and breadth of Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, she proposed and championed two sections that have received little attention: $40 billion for child care and early learning centers, and a provision that makes student loan forgiveness tax-free.

Biden has signed more than two dozen executive actions in his first two weeks, consistent with Warren’s call for the president to rely heavily on his own authority to move quickly on issues such as collecting better data on racial disparities in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

And in addition to people associated directly with Warren, the senator has ideological allies in other Biden appointments -- particularly his nomination of Gary Gensler to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Warren and her allies have had notably less success pushing her campaign proposal to establish a wealth tax. Under her plan, anyone with assets of more than $50 million would face a 2% tax on their wealth, a levy Warren has said would bring in $2.75 trillion over a decade. Tax experts have expressed concerns about both administering the tax and whether it would be constitutional.

Biden’s White House remains leery of Warren’s proposal. The president shares her view that middle-class families pay more than their fair share while those with the highest incomes don’t pay enough. But Biden has other plans for addressing the disparity, one White House official said.

He has called for increasing taxes on corporations and the highest-earning individuals, with a focus on trying to raise taxes on capital and investments rather than income. His proposed increases are seen by tax experts as fairly standard Democratic fare, whereas Warren’s wealth tax would more fundamentally restructure the tax system.

Still, the White House regards the Warren wealth tax as helpful politically because it shows Biden is not alone in trying to increase taxes.

Warren allies inside the Biden administration
Bharat RamamurtiNational Economic Council
Leandra EnglishNational Economic Council
Sasha BakerNational Security Council
Wally AdeyemoTreasury
Julie SiegelTreasury
Rohit ChopraConsumer Financial Protection Bureau (nominee)
Julie Margetta MorganEducation
Maggie ThomasOffice of Domestic Climate Policy
Anne ReedHealth and Human Services
Kevin LiaoEnergy

Warren’s approach on personnel dates back to the last Democratic president, and the belief among progressives that they got outflanked.

When Barack Obama took office, liberals were disheartened by the number of Wall Street alums who landed plum jobs at Treasury. This time around, Warren -- along with groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Revolving Door Project, Demand Progress, Roosevelt Institute and a constellation of environmental groups -- vowed to pay far more attention to Biden’s personnel choices.

Few Wall Street or financial trade groups will speak critically of Warren or her policies on the record, but they are closely watching her rising influence within Biden’s administration. On Tuesday, Ramamurti, Warren’s former economic policy director on her presidential campaign and a former Senate staffer, appeared at the press room podium to field questions on the Paycheck Protection Program.

Warren Builds Clout With Biden Through Pipeline of Staff Picks

“This administration is staffed in a much more progressive fashion than the president, and it is operating in a much more partisan fashion than he promised,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a conservative research group. “I bear her no animus, but I don’t think the policies are a good idea. In the middle of a pandemic, we should be focused on things that address the problems caused by the pandemic, not those longer-standing political objectives like the wealth tax.”

Some of Warren’s success in staffing has sprung from ongoing conversations between her and her team and members of Biden’s inner circle over the last several months.

Warren-aligned groups helped with the personnel push, too.

The co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Stephanie Taylor, created a database of potential staff for a nascent Democratic administration. About 50 progressive groups uploaded resumes and expressed support for hundreds of candidates. Shortly after Biden won the election, Taylor’s group handed the database over to his transition team.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.