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Nearly all of Biden's likely economic advisors previously worked in Obama or Clinton administrations

Ben Werschkul
·DC Producer
·4 min read

A new president often pulls his economic team heavily from the last time the same party was in office.

George W. Bush chose staffers who had also advised his father eight years prior. Barack Obama did the same with many of Bill Clinton’s aides.

Donald Trump often bucked the norm by bringing in an economic team that came from outside Washington, with figures like Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin, and Peter Navarro.

President-Elect Biden’s administration is just beginning to take shape but the signs so far point to a return to normalcy on the economic policy-making front. The leading public contenders are almost exclusively figures who served in the Obama/Biden or Clinton/Gore administrations. Oftentimes, in both.

Yahoo Finance analyzed 21 names being floated on various media lists for top economic jobs and found that 17 of them had served in some official capacity in a previous Democratic administration. At this point, the names are largely informed speculation, with Biden himself not expected to begin rolling out his team – beyond Chief of Staff Ron Klain – for a few more days or weeks.

A top economic post was defined as the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of the National Economic Council, Secretary of Commerce, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, or the US Trade Representative.

Among the top two jobs – Treasury Secretary and NEC director – there’s heavy reliance on past advisors. Only one name among the 12 being publicly floated – Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments – is not a former administration member.

Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Brainard, a current member of the Fed Board of Governors and former Treasury official, is often mentioned as a leading candidate for Treasury.

Two of the names often mentioned for top economic posts – Jared Bernstein and Ben Harris – have been longtime Biden advisors; from 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was chief economist and economic advisor to Biden when he was vice president, and Harris held that job after Bernstein.

This facet of the emerging Biden administration is not overly surprising given Biden’s long history in Washington and service as Vice President. Biden ran on the promise of restoring expertise to the decision-making process and the first words you see on his transition website are: “restoring American leadership.”

Some of the new faces (to Washington at least)

A few officials who could end up in top prominent positions after Jan. 20, 2021 would be new to Washington’s executive branch.

Heather Boushey, co-founder of a group called the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, advised the Biden campaign and was featured in a New York Times profile as Biden’s “Gen-X Advisor.” Her research has focused on finding ways to achieve economic growth and lessening inequality.

Hobson is another figure who could be prominent in Washington in the years ahead; she’s long been a prominent figure in the business world for years as the former board chair at DreamWorks Animation.

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 06:  Chair of The Economic Club of Chicago Mellody Hobson during the Economic Club of Chicago Dinner Meeting at Hilton Chicago on December 6, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/WireImage)
Chair of The Economic Club of Chicago Mellody Hobson during a meeting in December 2018. (Barry Brecheisen/WireImage)

Meg Whitman is another big name being mentioned as possible Commerce secretary. The former CEO of eBay and Hewlett-Packard was a political candidate herself, running unsuccessfully for governor of California in 2010.

Andrew Yang has also been mentioned for the Commerce department or a technology role. Biden’s former rival told Yahoo Finance earlier this week that he would “be thrilled to join the administration if I could help solve some of the problems I ran on.”

Other names that have been floated as possible Biden advisors had roles dating back to Bill Clinton’s administration. Lael Brainard and Jared Bernstein both served in the Clinton administration in lower-level roles. Gene Sperling was the director of the National Economic Council for both Clinton and Obama.

A pull between the left and the center

A closely watched facet of these appointments is how far to the left or right Biden’s potential advisors lean. Figures like Boushey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who worked for a spell under Obama as an Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury – are often characterized as representing the left-wing.

Jared Bernstein, chief economic advisor to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the White House in Washington October 19, 2009.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  (UNITED STATES POLITICS BUSINESS)
Jared Bernstein during a press briefing at the White House in 2009. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Bernstein has been a close advisor for years and was recently described as Biden’s “Man on the Left.”

People like Whitman, who is a Republican, might raise eyebrows among the progressive wing of the party but would be more welcomed by moderate Democrats.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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