A former senior adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential campaign addressed the potential cabinet candidates of President-elect Joe Biden, arguing that progressives should make the selection process “one of the most difficult a president has ever experienced.
“I think we should give no quarter to any cabinet nomination,” said Phillip Agnew, speaking Monday night during a Haymarket Books virtual event about the “ongoing struggle for freedom after the 2020 elections.
Agnew became chief advisor to Sanders’ campaign in March, just one month before the Vermont senator withdrew his name from the race. Agnew is currently the organizer of the Dream Defenders and Black Men Build.
Sanders is a registered independent, although he usually runs for the Democratic Party constituency. While he formally supported Biden for president and even participated in the campaign to form the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force in July, Sanders has publicly criticized the Democrats for becoming a “party of the coastal elites.
“I think that for many, many years the Democratic Party has not paid the kind of attention to the needs of the working class that it should have done,” he said on October 30 when he appeared with Seth Myers late that evening.
Agnew spoke on Monday about the current state of the party, arguing that progressives like himself needed to work together to “continue to force a split within the Democratic Party. There are “legitimate factions” that are forming within the party, which “by and large has no identity,” Agnew said.
Although he did not mention such “factions,” Agnew admitted that there were some he could stand behind. “We have to be legitimate and say that by 2024 we’re going to be looking for completely new things to come out of the Democratic Party, and that’s why we’re forcing this split right now,” he said.
The former adviser warned that time is running out for these changes and hinted at Biden’s inauguration in January. Although the transition from President Donald Trump’s administration to Biden’s is currently in a precarious state, the president-elect traditionally announces a cabinet shortly after his election so that the Senate can confirm the appointees before the start of the new term.
The cabinet includes the heads of 15 federal ministries and other high-ranking administrative officials. A newly elected president is usually treated like a soccer or basketball coach, who is fully trusted to select his own offense and defense coordinators, because “it’s their scheme,” Agnew said.
But Agnew sees a chance for the upcoming process to be different and suggested that there should be a “mass mobilization. He compared Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago who was touted as a potential cabinet candidate, to Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education under Trump.
“As tough as we have been on Betsy DeVos, we should be tough on Rahm Emanuel,” Agnew said.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, rejected Emanuel’s possible place in a Biden cabinet on Monday. “Someone like Rahm Emanuel would be a rather divisive choice,” she told the New York Times. “And he would, I think, signal a hostile attitude toward the party’s base and progressive wing,” she told the New York Times.
As Chicago’s mayor, Emanuel fought with activists for body-camera footage of police shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, in 2014, The Hill reported. According to The Hill, some members of Biden’s inner circle suggested Emanuel as head of a department such as housing or transportation.
Sanders was also touted as a potential cabinet candidate, although Politico had previously reported that the senator was interested in heading the Labor Department.
Washington Newsday contacted Biden’s transition team to comment, but did not return in time for publication.