Rumors of Bernie Sanders as Labor Secretary in Biden’s Cabinet

October 25th, 2020 - by Paul Gottinger / Reader Supported News

Why a President Joe Biden Should Invite Bernie Sanders Into His Administration

Paul Gottinger / Reader Supported News

 (October 24, 2020) — Some progressives still feeling the sting of Bernie Sanders’s primary loss found reason to celebrate this week when Politico reported that he is actively campaigning to be part of a future Joe Biden administration.

According to two sources familiar with his thinking, Sanders has expressed particular interest in becoming Biden’s Labor Secretary. As part of his effort, he has been reaching out to progressive allies on the Biden transition team. 

The Labor Secretary, an important but often overlooked member of a president’s cabinet, is responsible for overseeing the enforcement of key laws requiring employers to:

•  Pay workers a minimum hourly wage, overtime, and abide by other wage laws. 
•  Protect the health and safety of their workers.
•  Honor an employee’s right to family and medical leave.
•  Provide a discrimination-free workplace. 
•  Protect workers’ retirements.
•  Protect workers’ right to collectively bargain and form unions.

The Labor Secretary also implements job-training programs and investigates wage theft by employers, the largest form of theft in the country by dollar amount.

The responsibilities of a Labor Secretary are a great fit for Sanders, given his long track record of championing workers’ rights.

Senator Sanders himself has not confirmed his ambition to be part of Biden’s administration. When asked, he said, “Right now I am focused on seeing that Biden is elected president.”

Yet he alluded to it this week in his interview with Hill TV’s Krystal Ball. 

When Ball asked him if any progressive voices are being included in Biden’s transition team, Bernie responded, “You’ll have to forgive me for not going too much into the details, but yes, there are.”

Biden’s transition team has said they won’t be making any personnel decisions before the election, but Faiz Shakir, former manager of the Sanders campaign, hinted that the Sanders team has some influence in Biden’s team.

“We’ve had a good working relationship with the Biden team and I expect we’ll maintain that all the way through.”

Bill Clinton’s former labor secretary Robert Reich, when asked about the possibility of Bernie becoming Labor Secretary, said, “He’d be terrific.”

Yet some are skeptical that the Biden administration will roll out a welcome mat for progressives like Sanders. Given Biden’s long history of centrist politics and his obsession with bipartisanship, some progressives have feared a Biden administration will lock them out. 

Others on the left have suggested Sanders should stay out of a Biden administration because he would have to give up his fierce independence and ability to criticize Biden.

While there are good reasons to argue that the senator would be better off staying in the Senate — one being that the Republican governor of Vermont would appoint his replacement until a special election was held — Joe Biden would be smart to include Sanders in his cabinet for three reasons.

1. His platform is popular.
2. His supporters represent a significant percentage of the Democratic Party. 
3. For Biden to have a successful presidency, he’ll need to implement at least part of the Sanders agenda. 

Sanders’s Platform Is Popular

Sanders’s two presidential campaigns had a bigger impact on the country than any other failed presidential campaign in recent American history. His campaigns launched Medicare for All, student debt forgiveness, and a Green New Deal into the mainstream. 

Even Biden himself acknowledged the role Sanders has played in transforming the Democratic Party when he said:

Senator Sanders and his supporters have changed the dialogue in America. Issues which had been given little attention — or had little hope of ever passing — are now at the center of the political debate. Income inequality, universal health care, climate change, free college, relieving students from the crushing debt of student loans. 

I want to commend Bernie for being a powerful voice for a fairer and more just America … He doesn’t get enough credit for being a voice that forces us all to take a hard look in the mirror and ask if we’ve done enough.

The candidacy of Bernie Sanders inspired an entire new generation of politicians to enter politics by primarying old school, corporate Democrats. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and many others have said he had inspired them to run for office.

Sanders has provided hope for millions of young and working people, students, and retired folks that they had a place in the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party base and the American public at large support his policy proposals. 

According to recent polling, 87% of Democrats support Medicare for All, 83% of Democrats support tuition-free college, two-thirds of America supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the Green New Deal is even relatively popular in swing districts. 

Sanders’s Supporters Make Up a Significant Percentage of the Democratic Party

Sanders won 27% percent of the primary vote in 2020 and 43% in 2016, and he has remained a well-liked politician. To keep the Democratic base of youth, working people, and students engaged during a Biden presidency, Biden will need to extend an olive branch to the progressive wing. Including Sanders in the administration would be an excellent way to do that. 

For Biden to Succeed, He’ll Need to Enact Some of the Sanders Agenda

If Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021, he’ll take over in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. The Trump administration’s criminally negligent handling of the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting unemployment and housing crisis will require a Biden administration to think big, or the country will be unable to extract itself from the compounding problems. The transformative policy proposals advanced by Sanders would be an excellent roadmap for the Biden administration to follow.

Yet many liberals and progressives have seen signs Biden’s team is moving in the wrong direction. This week, a report came out that Biden’s team was vetting a number of Republicans to be part of his administration. Among those being considered were former governor John Kasich, billionaire Meg Whitman, former senator Jeff Flake, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, and Representative Charlie Dent.

Bernie Sanders has inspired a significant portion of the Democratic base with his vision for universal healthcare, a Green New Deal, cuts to military spending, and increasing worker’s wages. Who in the Democratic base has Governor Kasich or Senator Jeff Flake inspired? Kasich waged a bitter war against unions in Ohio, and Flake opposes abortion and voted to end Obamacare three times. There is no base in the Democratic Party for these views, and they don’t belong in a Biden administration. 

Extremist, conservative deficit hawks like Flake and Kasich would hamper the Biden administration’s ability to put forth transformative economic policies with their constant handwringing over spending levels, government debt, and paranoid fears of “socialist” government takeover.

Biden would be wise to drop the consideration of Republicans and make an effort to bring in members of the Sanders wing of the Democratic party. 

Sanders said this week he’ll be releasing his own independent agenda for the first 100 days of a Biden administration, and he’ll continue to encourage primary challengers to Democrats who fail to support a progressive agenda. 

Ultimately, a Biden administration can choose to deal with progressives on the inside or the outside of his administration. He’d be wise to welcome us in. Either way, it will be our job to force him to take our demands seriously.

Paul Gottinger is a staff reporter at RSN whose work focuses on the Middle East and the arms industry. He can be reached on Twitter @paulgottinger or via email.

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