Say, it’s certainly interesting timing for this observation, too, and in more ways than one. The New York Times did a deep dive on Joe Biden’s advisers and their corporate ties on Saturday, three weeks after the election and on the slowest news day of the week. Their motto may as well be All the News That’s Fit to Print … Long After You Need It.
It’s not anything we haven’t seen for decades in “the swamp,” but that’s part of the problem, especially for Biden:
One firm helps companies navigate global risks and the political and procedural ins and outs of Washington. The other is an investment fund with a particular interest in military contractors.
But the consulting firm, WestExec Advisors, and the investment fund, Pine Island Capital Partners, call themselves strategic partners and have featured an overlapping roster of politically connected officials — including some of the most prominent names on President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s team and others under consideration for high-ranking posts.
Now the Biden team’s links to these entities are presenting the incoming administration with its first test of transparency and ethics.
The two firms are examples of how former officials leverage their expertise, connections and access on behalf of corporations and other interests, without in some cases disclosing details about their work, including the names of the clients or what they are paid.
And when those officials cycle back into government positions, as Democrats affiliated with WestExec and Pine Island are now, they bring with them questions about whether they might favor or give special access to the companies they had worked with in the private sector. Those questions do not go away, ethics experts say, just because the officials cut their ties to their firms and clients, as the Biden transition team says its nominees will do.
Frankly, this wasn’t entirely a non-issue in the Trump administration either. Part of the problem with finding the “best and brightest” is that they are highly unlikely to be unemployed or inexperienced. It takes time and upward movement through either the public or private sectors to get noticed by governors and presidents-elect for open positions in Cabinets and even lower-level positions. It’s not a surprise, then, that board rooms and the Situation Room have such affinities.
The bigger problem in Biden’s case is the cast of characters coming out of WestExec and Pine Island. They’re straight out of the same old establishment caste, and in many cases are the old establishment caste:
WestExec’s founders include Antony J. Blinken, Mr. Biden’s choice to be his secretary of state, and Michèle A. Flournoy, one of the leading candidates to be his defense secretary. Among others to come out of WestExec are Avril Haines, Mr. Biden’s pick to be director of national intelligence; Christina Killingsworth, who is helping the president-elect organize his White House budget office; Ely Ratner, who is helping organize the Biden transition at the Pentagon; and Jennifer Psaki, an adviser on Mr. Biden’s transition team. …
Also working with Pine Island are Richard A. Gephardt, the former House majority leader, and Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, both Democrats, as well as Don Nickles, a Republican, who was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and is now the chief executive of a lobbying firm with dozens of major corporate clients.
Abraham Lincoln had a “team of rivals”; Biden’s apparently aiming for a “team of retreads. He’s even pulling former senator and secretary of state John Kerry into his administration as a “climate czar,” a description that suits Kerry’s style to a T. Even if Kerry wasn’t a retread (which he most certainly is), his whole Brahmin demeanor practically screams elitism. And, for that matter, it screams ignorant elitism of the kind that produces populist reactions. Recall his pontificating about the impossibility of normalizing relations between Israel and Arab nations without settling the Palestinian question? That’s the exciting new and fresh thinking that Biden’s putting into his new administration.
Of course, one can argue — and I believe correctly — that this might be Biden’s only real mandate in the 2020 election. He got 80 million votes while his party took a down-ballot pounding. The only possible mandate Biden has with those election results is a return to normalcy to the point of being boring. Recycling old officeholders in a game of musical chairs is one way to accomplish that, but it won’t accomplish much else. And it could add more fuel to the populism in both parties that will end up flipping the House in two years and the White House in four when Biden either exceeds his mandate or produces depressing results from the establishment caste that paved the road for Donald Trump.