Politico

Brian Deese likely pick for top White House economic post


President-elect Joe Biden is leaning towards naming former senior Obama administration official and current investment executive Brian Deese his top economic adviser in the White House, although pushback from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party could still derail the pick.

Three people close to the situation said Wednesday that Deese, an executive at investment giant BlackRock, is poised to be announced as Biden’s pick for director of the National Economic Council in the White House in the coming days. The decision is not final, however, and Biden could still change his mind, the people cautioned.

Some progressive groups have warned against hiring Deese, 42, to a White House post, given his current job in the financial sector. “We are concerned, as our name suggests, with revolving door hires,” said Jeff Hauser, who founded the Revolving Door Project to scrutinize executive branch appointees. “And Brian Deese’s [relationship] to BlackRock makes it less likely that the federal government will rein in BlackRock as it should be.”

People close to the transition argue that much of the criticism from the left on Deese is unfair. They say he has long supported progressive economic policies and played a critical role in helping the U.S. economy recover from the financial crisis and Great Recession, making him a natural fit as Biden attempts to steer the economy back from the Covid-19 epidemic.

They also cite support for Deese in the environmental community and note that his role at BlackRock is to drive investments into sustainable areas of the economy like clean energy.

“He has just proven himself to be an effective champion for transitioning the economy to be a cleaner economy,” said John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and counselor to President Barack Obama before founding the progressive group Center for American Progress. “There is no question in my mind that he will campaign aggressively on behalf of the environment.”

Economist Robert Greenstein, founder and president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said he thought Deese would be an “excellent choice” for NEC. “I worked with him on a number of issues during the Obama administration and found him really one of the most effective people in an effective White House. And I consistently found him to be on the side of the progressives.”

Deese did not respond to a request for comment. A Biden transition official declined to comment.

Deese served as deputy director of both the Office of Management and Budget and the NEC during the Obama administration. He is now Global Head of Sustainable Investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.

His selection would be in keeping with Biden’s pattern of tapping officials from the Obama White House to staff senior jobs in his own administration. Fresh out of Yale Law School, the then-31-year-old Deese helped lead Obama’s auto industry bailout. He’s also worked on environmental issues and other areas important to Biden. Deese’s Ivy League background would also follow a trend with Biden’s top picks.

Biden could also balance the NEC pick by selecting a more diverse and progressive candidate to head the Council of Economic Advisers.

The CEA is less influential than the NEC and operates from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, rather than inside the West Wing. But it serves as the in-house economic forecasting and analysis unit for the administration and plays a significant role in formulating policy ideas. The CEA chair is also often a top spokesperson for the White House on economic issues.

The leading candidate for the CEA job, according to people close to the transition, is Cecilia Rouse, an African American economist who worked on both Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and President Bill Clinton’s National Economic Council and is now the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Lisa Cook, an African American economist at Michigan State who also worked at CEA under Obama, is also a top candidate for the CEA job. Cook served as a top outside economic adviser to the Biden campaign. Other candidates include economists Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.

Boushey and Bernstein both served as top campaign advisers and Bernstein served as top economic adviser to then-Vice President Biden during the Obama administration. Bernstein is almost certain to get a very senior economic role in the Biden White House though it remains unclear which job he will take.

The Biden transition team is trying to move swiftly through Cabinet and senior staff announcements to avoid behind the scenes jockeying and palace intrigue stories, a person close to the matter said. So more announcements including for the economic team are expected next week.

Theodoric Meyer and Victoria Guida contributed to this report.

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