Liberal advocacy groups are preparing blacklists of candidates for appointments to a Hillary Clinton administration, with one organization even producing opposition research to torpedo contenders they consider too soft on Wall Street or other corporate interests.
Planning for a Democratic victory on Nov. 8, these interest groups and like-minded lawmakers are laying the groundwork to push Clinton, if she is elected, to prove her progressive bona fides through early legislation and personnel appointments.
One liberal group has already forwarded to Clinton’s transition team the names of 150 acceptable appointees for economic positions, while others on the left are engaged in opposition research against prospects for administration jobs whom they see as unacceptable.
Leading liberal lawmakers — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — have also started conveying, privately and publicly, guidance on top prospective Clinton appointees and legislative priorities.
The activity reflects the fragile alliance between Clinton and the progressive wing of her party as she nears the end of a tumultuous race against Republican Donald Trump. Although Clinton has campaigned on several of their key issues, many liberals remain skeptical that she will push those priorities adequately if she wins the presidency — and wary that her ties to Wall Street might affect the administration she would build.
“A lot of people are along for the ride through November 8th and will need assurances after that with big, bold action,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC). “If you lose people early on, it’s hard to get them back on board.”
Clinton and her aides have declined to discuss personnel issues, citing a policy of staying mum on that front until after the election. But it’s clear that conversations with the left started early: Warren sent Clinton a list of potential administration appointees before Jan. 6, 2015, according to an email hacked from the account of Clinton campaign chairman John D. Podesta and published by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Warren, Sanders and other leading liberals have proved loyal soldiers to Clinton during the general-election contest, campaigning regularly and urging their supporters to vote for her. Activists hope these efforts will provide the left with leverage if Clinton wins. But they foresee a very short honeymoon next year should she start nominating unacceptable candidates to positions such as treasury secretary.
Among more than a dozen liberal activists interviewed for this article, there is broad agreement that Mary Jo White, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a frequent target for the left, should not remain in her post in a Clinton administration. At the Treasury Department, progressives see red flags for several potential leaders, including Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Federal Reserve Board member Lael Brainard.
One potential candidate whom Warren and others on the left have signaled to be acceptable is Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin, who has a long history of consumer advocacy and is the wife of Jamie B. Raskin, a Maryland state senator running for Congress this year.
Gary Gensler, former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is also viewed favorably, although Gensler’s past work at Goldman Sachs has given some progressives pause. Gensler is the chief financial officer of Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Others whose service is being pushed include Tom Perez, President Obama’s labor secretary; Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), who lost a Senate primary in April; former senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.); Joseph Stiglitz, an economist and Columbia University professor; Heather C. McGhee, president of Demos, a liberal public-policy organization; and Lori Wallach, an expert on trade with the advocacy group Public Citizen.
“You can’t claim to want to rein in Wall Street if your Treasury Department is filled with Wall Street executives,” said Jeff Weaver, president of Our Revolution, an organization launched to carry out the agenda of Sanders’s presidential campaign.
Weaver, who served as Sanders’s campaign manager, said progressive groups are “prepared to mobilize people to put a tremendous amount of pressure” on the new administration and the Senate in cases where confirmation of nominees is required.
The assembly of a Clinton administration would be the first major test of power for progressives since Sanders’s unsuccessful presidential run. Activists, guided by Warren’s mantra that “personnel is policy,” are wary of a repeat of Obama’s 2008 transition, in which their influence was muted and which led to an administration they view as disappointingly friendly to corporate interests.
There are some new challenges this time: a Clinton team on which some of the more influential voices are not part of the formal transition process; and a fear that some of Clinton’s choices could harbor policy aims less ambitious than the liberal advocates would like.
Emboldened by their success in blocking investment banker Antonio Weiss from the job of undersecretary of the treasury for domestic finance in 2014, liberals hope to see their influence reflected not only in first-tier fiscal roles under Clinton but also in picks for attorney general and lower-ranking yet powerful regulatory positions across the government. (Weiss withdrew his name from consideration for the post, which remains unfilled, and joined the Treasury Department as a counselor to the secretary.)
The proposed AT&T merger with Time Warner has highlighted what progressives see as the need for like-minded officials in the Justice Department’s antitrust division. Advocates also see the U.S. trade representative, the SEC chair and the director of the National Economic Council as vital to their policy mission.
The Roosevelt Institute, a New York-based liberal economic advocacy group, has been particularly active in culling names of potential appointees, forwarding to the transition team about 150 who they say reflect the country’s ethnic and geographic diversity.
An array of other liberal groups are also involved in the effort, including the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which houses the Revolving Door Project, a shop devoted to investigating public figures for the left.
Some activists have described the project’s executive director, Jeff Hauser, as the keeper of a list of undesirable candidates and a researcher into their backgrounds. Reached by phone, Hauser confirmed that he is researching many potential Clinton appointees.
While Warren has privately communicated her desires to Clinton on personnel, Sanders has started speaking out about his standards for treasury secretary and other positions.
Podesta’s hacked emails reveal Clinton’s inner circle maneuvering to attend to Warren and stay on her good side. Central to this effort are Gensler and Mandy Grunwald, a Warren strategist turned Clinton campaign consultant who communicated regularly with Podesta and others last year about actions that might alienate the progressive left.
Clinton speechwriter Dan Schwerin also pursued a working relationship with Warren adviser Dan Geldon, meeting with him in early 2015 about possible administration personnel. Schwerin described the meeting in a follow-up email as “polite” but “not exactly warm.”
“They seem wary — and pretty convinced that the Rubin folks have the inside track with us whether we realize it yet or not — but open to engagement and to be proven wrong,” Schwerin wrote to Podesta and others, referring to former treasury secretary Robert Rubin, who was an executive from Goldman Sachs.
As the prospective transition approaches, progressives are also keeping a close eye on Clinton’s approach to ethics.
Clinton has said she supports a bill proposed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) to prevent financial executives entering the government from receiving massive bonuses known as golden parachutes. But when asked by The Washington Post whether Clinton would choose to implement this policy for her own administration, the campaign declined to answer.
Progressive groups are also starting to weigh in on what legislation Clinton, if elected, should push once Congress returns in January.
Among the initiatives that she campaigned on, several are favorites of progressives, including a debt-free-college plan that Clinton revised with Sanders’s input after the primaries. At his urging, she incorporated part of his plan to making public colleges and universities tuition-free for families making up to $125,000 a year.
A strong push for that plan by a President Clinton would send a positive signal that she is willing to “go bold” on a progressive agenda, PCCC’s Green said.
“If Republicans want to be the party of letting students graduate with debt, let them try that,” he said.
Clinton has not pledged to make the college plan part of her first-100-days agenda. Instead, she plans to push two objectives with more centrist appeal: infrastructure investment and an overhaul of immigration policy. Clinton has also pledged to start the process of overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the door for moneyed interests to participate heavily in elections.
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said that as president, Clinton would champion the same progressive priorities that she has since the Democratic primaries.
“The same people who are trying to cast doubt on how she would approach her presidency were predicting she’d make some sort of pivot in the general election, and that hasn’t happened,” Fallon said, adding that Clinton looks forward to working with progressive lawmakers to implement her agenda.
Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.