Joe Biden’s Advisers Come from the Obama White House

  • Politics
  • Joe Biden’s Advisers Come from the Obama White House

WASHINGTON — Joseph R. Biden Jr., plotting an ambitious presidency that would begin amid twin health and economic crises, is leaning on veteran advisers with high-level governmental experience rather than outsiders and ideological rivals to help guide him on subjects including the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s diminished standing in the world.

In the four years since Mr. Biden left government, elements of his party have moved sharply to the left, and President Trump has reframed much of the conversation on economic inequality and growth, trade, industrial policy and America’s role in the world. But after 36 years in the Senate and eight as vice president, Mr. Biden has surrounded himself with advisers who have been at his side for years and shaped the center-left policies of a receding era.

Mr. Biden once said that people wanted “results, not a revolution,” and the advisers in his orbit generally fit with that theme, even as they acknowledge the shifting policy terrain on issues like China, the Middle East and the American middle class.

Many are well-known figures within Democratic circles, who absorbed both the struggles and successes of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Mr. Biden has promised a diverse administration, although during his presidential bid, his innermost circle has skewed heavily white. Many of his advisers in important policy areas are also white.

Here is a look at some of the people who have Mr. Biden’s ear.

When the Biden campaign learned this month that two people who had traveled with Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, had tested positive for the coronavirus, it convened a conference call with reporters. Also present on the call were two health experts: Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general who was appointed by Mr. Obama, and Dr. David A. Kessler, who led the Food and Drug Administration under Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.

Mr. Biden has spoken often of his briefings with experts, and Dr. Murthy and Dr. Kessler have been two of the most prominent medical figures whose counsel Mr. Biden has sought during the public health crisis.

“Early on it was every day, or four times a week,” Dr. Kessler said in an interview last month, recalling briefings that he and Dr. Murthy conducted with Mr. Biden in the early days of the outbreak. “We would send in 80- to 90-page documents, take him through the epidemic from epidemiology, therapeutics, vaccines, testing. Staff would join, originally by phone but they soon shifted to Zoom.”

“The docs,” as Mr. Biden calls Dr. Kessler and Dr. Murthy, also pore over research and data on the virus and consult with modelers, vaccinologists and other experts so they can provide Mr. Biden with projections about the coming months.

Mr. Biden and his campaign have stressed the importance of relying on the advice of public health experts — an intentional contrast with Mr. Trump, who has flouted public-health guidelines and disregarded scientific advice.

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In addition to Dr. Kessler and Dr. Murthy, the campaign’s advisers have also included Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, who advised the Obama White House on health policy, and Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s former homeland security adviser.

Mr. Biden has also signaled that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, will have a prominent role in a Biden administration. The Biden campaign has said Dr. Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “will have full access to the Oval Office and an uncensored platform to speak directly to the American people — whether delivering good news or bad.” — Thomas Kaplan and Abby Goodnough

Mr. Biden has cast a wide net for economic advice, soliciting input from several hundred policy experts.

After the Democratic primary, he and his more liberal former rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, formed a series of “unity task forces” that included some of Mr. Biden’s advisers as well as appointees chosen by Mr. Sanders. The task force on the economy produced a detailed array of recommendations on policies to boost wages, address racial inequality and expand family leave.

But in the day-to-day practice of honing his campaign platform and sharpening his economic policy views, Mr. Biden has leaned on a small team of center-left advisers who are largely veterans of past Democratic campaigns, presidential administrations, or both.

Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, was Mr. Biden’s first chief economist in the White House. Mr. Bernstein comes from the school of economists who focus heavily on workers and the middle class, and he champions policies that seek to boost worker bargaining power, through strengthening labor unions, attacking corporate monopoly power and pushing Congress and the Federal Reserve to stimulate economic growth and drive down unemployment.

Mr. Bernstein’s successor as Mr. Biden’s White House chief economist, who taken a leading role in crafting the campaign agenda, is Ben Harris. He is seen as more pragmatic and technocratic than Mr. Bernstein, and he spent years in the weeds of tax and retirement policy at two different policy groups within the Brookings Institution.

Heather Boushey, who led economic policy for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, is arguably the most liberal member of Mr. Biden’s inner circle. She heads a think tank focused on inequality, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and she has written extensively about the benefits of government policies meant to boost women’s participation in the work force, including paid family leave and child care subsidies.


Oct. 29, 2020, 2:56 p.m. ET

Stef Feldman, the Biden campaign’s policy director, and Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser, are other key economic policy aides. Others who have briefed Mr. Biden include Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist who has produced pathbreaking research on economic mobility and its roots in the last several years; Lisa D. Cook, a Michigan State University economist and veteran of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, who has published work on the economic costs of racial discrimination in innovation and other areas; and Janet L. Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve.

In recent months, other veterans of Mr. Obama’s White House economic team have joined as surrogates for Mr. Biden in public policy discussions, including Austan Goolsbee, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Gene Sperling, a former National Economic Council chairman. — Jim Tankersley

Mr. Biden would come to office with more foreign policy experience than any president in memory. Some in his inner circle of foreign policy and national security advisers have worked for him on and off for more than 20 years.

None are strident ideologues. Collectively they represent a relatively centrist, establishment worldview — most of them held senior positions in the Obama administration — in a party where liberals enjoy growing influence. But people around Mr. Biden say his aides understand that assumptions that governed Obama policymaking have changed, including the prospects for cooperation with China and the importance of the Middle East.

Perhaps most influential among them is Antony Blinken, who worked for Mr. Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 2000s and served as a deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state under Mr. Obama. Known more for his diplomatic touch than any fixed ideas, he is considered a likely candidate for national security adviser or secretary of state.

Mr. Biden also relies on the counsel of Mr. Sullivan, who served as his national security adviser when Mr. Biden was vice president. A former senior aide to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Sullivan is seen as an establishment centrist but has recently called for overhauling foreign policy to better connect to middle-class concerns. Others include Julie Smith, who served as a deputy national security adviser in Mr. Biden’s White House office. She is a European specialist and backs tough policies to deter Russian aggression in Europe.

Also in Mr. Biden’s orbit are party long-timers like former Secretary of State John Kerry, a contemporary of Mr. Biden in the Senate who has been among his party’s more hawkish members in the past 20 years, and Thomas Donilon, a former national security adviser to Mr. Obama who has known Mr. Biden since the 1980s. A leading proponent of cooperation with China during the Obama years, Mr. Donilon, like several others in Mr. Biden’s orbit, has recently come to see Beijing as a more serious threat to American interests. — Michael Crowley

To hear Mr. Trump tell it, Mr. Biden’s climate change policies are being engineered by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and young activists who championed the Green New Deal.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez did serve as a chairwoman of the “unity” task force on climate created by Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, and Mr. Biden reached out to the environmental justice community, youth leaders and union officials as he shaped his $2 trillion plan to expand clean energy and eliminate net fossil fuel emissions by 2050.

But Mr. Biden’s inner circle on climate change is largely composed of those with whom he served in the Obama administration: Mr. Kerry; Gina McCarthy, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator; and John Holdren, a former White House science adviser.

All have pressed for aggressive policies to address climate change. But they also are veterans of failed battles to enact legislation, which then turned to executive action and regulatory policies that the Trump administration repealed.

The Biden campaign’s policy director, Ms. Feldman, who also worked on energy issues for Mr. Biden when he was vice president, has played a key role in shaping his climate plans.

Heather Zichal’s presence as an informal adviser to Mr. Biden has angered climate activists because she was on the board of Cheniere Energy, a liquefied natural gas company, from 2014 to 2018. Ms. Zichal served as Mr. Kerry’s legislative director in the Senate before working in the Obama administration, where she worked closely with Mr. Biden in spending $90 billion from the 2009 stimulus law on clean energy. She later helped develop regulations to curb emissions from oil wells, vehicle tailpipes and power plants.

Another adviser is Brian Deese, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on energy and climate and now global head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.

Mr. Biden also turns to a cadre of former Senate colleagues and other peers who are steeped in climate change policy and politics, including Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate activist, both of whom ran for president on global warming platforms.

Mr. Biden remains at odds with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on several key climate issues, including a national ban on fracking, which Mr. Biden opposes. Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said the difference does not trouble her: “It will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House,” she said. — Lisa Friedman

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