A pair of left-wing groups are attempting to influence Joe Biden’s early search for a chief of staff, conducting a poll of the leading contenders as they seek to limit the presence of business-friendly Democrats in the West Wing.
The poll of chiefs of staff, a copy of which was exclusively obtained by POLITICO, is an unusual gambit and shows the level of organization among progressives as they press Biden to embrace a more left-wing agenda.
But the move could backfire by further irritating those in Biden’s orbit who believe the focus ought to be on Election Day and not the next battle.
The poll, conducted by progressive think tank Data for Progress in conjunction with advocacy group Demand Progress, surveyed Republicans, Democrats and independents. The survey does not name the trio of longtime Biden advisers — Steve Ricchetti, Ron Klain and Bruce Reed are unknown to most Americans — but rather polls their resumes, particularly their past corporate and lobbying work.
Reed, for instance, is described as having “called for cutting Social Security and Medicare during the Great Recession as the staff director of the Simpson-Bowles commission” in one question and having played a key role in the 1994 crime bill in another question.
The poll found 74 percent of respondents very or somewhat concerned that Biden’s chief of staff would have Reed’s background on Social Security and Medicare, as described by the poll, with 65 percent expressing concern about the description of his role on the 1994 crime bill.
Ricchetti, meanwhile, is described as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies and the insurance industry. Another descriptor focuses on his work bringing China into the World Trade Organization during the Clinton administration, which the poll described as “unpopular at the time and critics say led to the collapse of blue-collar jobs across America.”
While some of the polling questions appear designed to provoke a negative reaction, they are also a preview of the attacks from the left wing if Biden does choose Reed or Ricchetti.
The least objectionable chief of staff, according to the poll, was Klain who was described as having worked at a “big corporate law firm” (56 percent somewhat or very concerned) and “worked as a venture capitalist” (59 percent somewhat or very concerned).
Through the Biden campaign, Richetti, Reed and Klain declined to comment.
A chief of staff is traditionally the most important person in the White House besides the president, as they are the ultimate gatekeeper managing access to the commander in chief. While this has not been the case in the the free-wheeling Donald Trump White House, Biden is more likely to return to the older model of West Wing management.
Biden “should not install someone as chief who’s been part of the problem for the last generation,” said David Segal, Demand Progress’ executive director. Segal argued that Reed and Ricchetti fell into that camp because “they have both spent their careers working on behalf of corporate elites and the very wealthy and have enriched themselves in doing so.”
Organizers say that the poll was conducted now because Biden is expected to designate his chief of staff before Election Day and they wanted to influence the selection. A number of left-wing groups also expressed support for Klain this past week, arguing that he was the best choice to keep the party united after the campaign.
“When every faction of the Democratic Party would find Ron Klain acceptable, and he has Biden’s trust and the exact right experience, it seems like a no-brainer,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, who has been working over the past year to compile a roster of potential progressives appointments. “Some decisions are hard in politics, but this one seems easy.”
Or as Segal put it: “Rule by plutocrats is incredibly unpopular.”