Posted on September 8, 2020

Purity Test: Democrats Clash over Biden Diversity Goals

Zachary Warmbrodt, Politico, September 7, 2020

Black Democrats are urging Joe Biden to resist growing pressure from the left to impose an anti-Wall Street purity test on his hiring decisions if elected, warning that it threatens the party’s desire to boost diversity in powerful executive branch posts.

Progressives have been calling on Biden to take a hard line in filling out his Cabinet, with groups such as Justice Democrats and Sunrise Movement demanding that he pledge to appoint “zero” current or former Wall Street executives or corporate lobbyists to his administration.

But Black Democrats on Capitol Hill and on K Street say that’s in direct conflict with the party’s overarching diversity goals and would keep many people of color, including those with ties to the financial world, from ascending to key positions long dominated by white males.

“We’ve got to fix all of the problems that were created over the last four years,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a senior lawmaker on the House Financial Services Committee and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We’re going to need every hand on deck.”Black business leaders that Democrats have floated for potential Biden Cabinet positions include Roger Ferguson, the CEO of financial services giant TIAA and a onetime vice chair of the Federal Reserve, as well as John Rogers and Mellody Hobson, the co-CEOs of Ariel Investments. The emerging debate over whether corporate insiders should be in the mix is shaping up to be a major point of tension within the party as it tries to unify around Biden’s campaign.

“We have seen the effects of corporate control over the American government for our entire lives; it has blocked universal access to health care, real action on the climate crisis and started endless wars that waste taxpayer dollars we need to invest in schools and jobs,” said Emily Mayer, political director of IfNotNow, one of the groups trying to discourage Biden from appointing executives and lobbyists. “We reject the false choice between having the people leading our country represent the diversity of our nation and removing corporate control from our politics.”


As for Biden, the former vice president’s economic platform includes a pledge to improve racial equity in part by promoting “diverse leadership for all federal agencies.”

At the same time, progressives are waging a fight that has been under way in earnest since the Obama administration to keep Wall Street titans out of powerful government posts.


A key point made by critics of the anti-Wall Street approach is that minority candidates may be among the first with the opportunity to build wealth for their families, creating pressure for them to enter the corporate world before joining government.

“Our path to becoming a lobbyist often looks different than our colleagues,” said Nicole Venable, who founded a group of women lobbyists of color known as the Black Girl Magic Network. “There is more toggling between the Hill, the administration and ‘downtown.’ For many of us, we have to come out at certain points and work in the private sector to either advance or to make money in order to stay working in politics and policy.”


Progressives don’t dispute the financial burdens faced by potential minority appointees but they say it should not be an excuse to allow corporate influence to go unchecked.


The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.