As Donald Trump and most Republicans continued their dishonest and dangerous campaign to overturn the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential election, progressive Democrats and activist groups are assessing President-elect Joe Biden’s staff and Cabinet appointments to his incoming administration.
One early frontrunner for the important job of Health and Human Services Secretary, that will play a critical role in managing the coronavirus pandemic, was Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. However, after progressive activists criticized Gov. Raimondo’s handling of the pandemic in her state, and caving in to lobbyists to issue an executive order giving legal liability protections to nursing homes, she dropped out. Biden instead appointed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose activism fighting the Trump agenda earned him praise from leading progressives. Other Biden appointments greeted with criticism, included retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III, nominated to be defense secretary, who served on the board of directors of the powerful weapons manufacturer Raytheon.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Joseph Geevarghese, national executive director of Our Revolution, a progressive political action organization born from Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. Here, he talks about his group’s successful candidate endorsements in the 2020 election, moving the incoming Biden administration toward adopting progressive policies, and their work in the two critical Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.
JOSEPH GEEVARGHESE: 2020 was a landmark year for progressives. Let me just add a caveat. At the federal level, a lot of Democrats — centrists especially — were forecasting a blue wave, but that failed to materialize. And as a result, you saw a lot of centrists casting blame on progressives for having slogans like “Defund the police” or “Medicare for All” and centrists blaming progressives for losing ground at the federal level.
But here’s the real thing. If you peel away that critique, and if you look down ballot, our candidates did really well. We endorsed 450 candidates — everything from drainage commissioners to school board members to mayors, state reps and 74 percent of our candidates won. It’s our highest win rate ever. The other part of that I think is worth noting. Not only are progressives ascendant in down ballot races, but our issues are doing really well. So for example, Florida just passed a $15 minimum wage ballot measure and Florida, as we all know, went for Donald Trump. You know and Trump won by 51 percent of the vote. The $15 minimum wage ballot measure got 61 percent of the vote. Paid leave passed in Colorado. Biden took Colorado, but paid leave, a ballot measure there in Colorado, got more votes than Joe Biden. So taken together, I would say the results from 2020 are very heartening for progressives, despite what happened at the federal level. And I think there’s a clear message to centrists that their message isn’t resonating with the people.
SCOTT HARRIS: You know, I did want to have you provide a little bit of assessment here on President-elect Joe Biden’s staff and Cabinet appointments that have been announced thus far. And, just one that I’d like to focus on initially. And that there was talk of selecting Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as the new Health and Human Services secretary. But it was just announced that Biden instead will be choosing California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who’s a real active progressive guy. And, it was interesting that there was a lot of progressive criticism of the selection of Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo, who has a lot of baggage, let’s put it that way. But I don’t know if you wanted to comment there because there’s certainly a battle going on for the officials that will populate this new administration.
JOSEPH GEEVARGHESE: Now, I think the Democratic party is funded in a lot of ways by corporate donations and you’re seeing a revolving door. I mean, that’s kind of the pattern. When we look at Biden and his appointments, you’re seeing people who worked for concerns like Black Rock or served on the boards of large military contractors. You’re seeing them go into government. I think Democrats definitely want to be on the side of draining the swamp and not aligning ourselves with corporate interests that want to privatize and plunder our government. So what we’re seeing is really concerning. And what we’re doing at Our Revolution is really trying to push back and make sure that we have real progressives in positions of power and, you know, it’s a real fight, because the other side usually is well-resourced and well-connected.
And you can kind of tell that, I think, by all the appointments, whether it’s Neera Tanden for OMB (Office of Management and Budget), for some of the other folks that he’s named. What I think that means for progressives is that we’re going to have to fight, to continue making progress on the things that are important to us as well as holding Biden accountable to all the things that he said he would, you know, whether it’s lowering the age for Medicare to 60 or allowing the government to negotiate pharmaceutical drug prices. You know, I think there’s a lot of things that Biden said that he would do that we should hold him accountable for. And I think that itself would be a little bit of fight given some of these appointees in this moment. But we know what we’re up against, which is, you know, corporate America.