Vastavam web: President-elect Joe Biden is facing escalating pressure from competing factions within his own party as he finalises his choice for secretary of defense. Black leaders have encouraged the incoming president to select an African-American to diversify what has so far been a largely white prospective Cabinet, while others are pushing him to appoint a woman to lead the Department of Defense for the first time.
At the same time, a growing collection of progressive groups is opposing the leading female contender, Mich le Flournoy, citing concerns about her record and private-sector associations. A coalition of at least seven progressive groups warned Biden to avoid Flournoy in an open letter to Biden obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press that referenced her record of ill-advised policy decisions particularly in relation to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan and an opaque history of private-sector activity.” Other contenders are emerging, including retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin and Jeh Johnson, who served as the Pentagon’s top lawyer and then as head of the Department of Homeland Security during President Barack Obama’s second term. Both Austin and Johnson are Black.
The competing pressures are intensifying less than a month into Biden’s urgent push to build an administration while trying to preserve the broad coalition that fueled his victory over President Donald Trump last month. And facing massive governing challenges once he takes office on Jan. 20, Biden can perhaps least afford to lose the backing of the Democratic Party’s fiery progressive base. Nearly 100 House Democrats belong to the Progressive Caucus, which may wield significant influence over Biden’s policy agenda as Democrats cling to their narrowest House majority in a century.
Progressive groups have cheered a handful of Biden’s early hires particularly Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein to his Council of Economic Advisers but have been far from satisfied overall. Despite early disappointment, they have resisted the temptation to embrace an adversarial tone as they decide how to flex their muscles most effectively in the new political climate, especially with several major Cabinet positions and senior positions yet to be filled. Justice Democrats spokesperson Waleed Shahid called Biden’s early picks a mixed bag, but noted that they have generally been more progressive than Obama’s early picks after his 2008 election victory.
Flournoy, meanwhile, had been seen as the leading candidate for defense secretary under a Democratic president since Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign. She stood out as deeply experienced, respected on Capitol Hill and well known on the international stage. But soon after Biden’s victory, her stock seemed to slip as others, including Austin and Johnson, came into consideration.