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As the 2020 Democratic primaries were heating up last year, then-candidate Joe Biden assured his wealthy campaign donors in Manhattan that “nothing would fundamentally change” for their luxurious standard of living under his presidency. Based on the majority of his Cabinet picks, he wasn’t kidding. Biden will maintain a cozy relationship with corporate America by lubricating the hinges of the ever revolving door of politics.
Take Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of State, as an example. In 2017, Blinken transitioned out of the Obama administration and founded a consulting firm called WestExec Advisors. The majority of its staffers — 21 out of 38 — personally donated to Biden’s campaign. WestExec co-founder Michele Flournoy alone raised more than $100,000 for the former vice president.
Defense hawks and Wall Street ties
Was Blinken chosen for the job because he’s best suited, or is Biden trading favors based on campaign fundraisers and donations? Sure, Blinken and Biden have worked together in the past, and that could have factored into his decision. But aside from the transparent “favor for a favor” deal-making taking place in plain sight, Blinken’s opaque work at WestExec Advisors could be rife with conflicts of interest.
The firm’s website boasts about selling influence to the White House by stating that its name “is derived from ‘West Executive Avenue,’ the closed street that runs between the West Wing of the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It is, quite literally, the road to the Situation Room, and it is the road everyone associated with WestExec Advisors has crossed many times en route to meetings of the highest national security consequences.”
While it’s clear that this consulting firm’s services mostly revolve around helping corporate clients and defense contractors win favorable government treatment, little is known about its client list because its staffers aren’t considered lobbyists. They’re labeled strategic advisers, which means they don't have to disclose whom they’re working for.
As The Intercept noted, the Biden team is squandering an opportunity for reform by sticking to conventional nominees like Avril Haines for director of national intelligence. While serving in the CIA under the Obama administration, Haines was an architect of the disastrous drone program that killed hundreds of innocent civilians. Later, Haines worked as a consultant for WestExec Advisors and Palantir — a controversial data mining firm that has provided the Trump administration intel to perform mass deportations.
Janet Yellen, who has been tapped to serve as Treasury secretary, is another example. When Politico reported that Yellen made $7.2 million in the past two years for giving closed-door speeches to Wall Street firms, Biden supporters brushed it off as nothing more than a misogynistic attack. However, there should be an overwhelming consensus that Americans deserve to know about any lucrative ties politicians and government officials have to bankers and hedge funds.
Corporate buddies are a bad look
Paid speeches have long served as a corrupting force in the health care industry. The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services recently declared that pharmaceutical companies often hire health care providers for paid speeches “with the intent to induce” them “to prescribe or order the companies’ products.” Politics operates the same way, so it’s reasonable to raise alarms about the millions of dollars Yellen raked in from giving speeches to Wall Street bankers in such a short timespan.
Some of Biden’s nominees, such as Tom Vilsack for Agriculture secretary and Neera Tanden for Office of Management and Budget director, are even more insulting against the backdrop of the complete economic destruction Americans are grappling with. The pandemic has decimated the financial stability of tens of millions of workers. About 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since just last summer.
Biden tapping into his Rolodex of old corporate buddies is a bad look. If his economic policies mirror former President Barack Obama’s following the economic collapse in 2008, the Democratic Party will face another day of reckoning at the polls in 2022.
For anyone who might disagree by suggesting that the incoming Cabinet represents an improvement over the monstrosity we experienced with the Trump administration, it’s only fair to acknowledge how pathetically low our standards have become.
Ana Kasparian is a host and executive producer of The Young Turks on TYT. Follow her on Twitter: @AnaKasparian
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden's corporate Cabinet picks could lead to a 2022 election reckoning