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Biden's cabinet picks are mostly centrist, but can they prevail in clashes with progressives?

"The Biden cabinet is filled with moderates who will do their best to preserve the status quo from the howling leftists outside," said former Bill Clinton political guru Dick Morris.

Updated: January 22, 2021 - 2:49pm

"Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China," Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken said during his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday.

The longtime foreign policy adviser to Joe Biden also praised the Trump administration's role in brokering historic peace deals between Israel and four Arab nations, and seconded Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent designation of China's treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority as "genocide."

Blinken is representative of the new president's generally centrist, establishment cabinet picks. However, warns Dick Morris, the architect of former President Bill Clinton's centrist "triangulation" strategy, the political impulses of Blinken and other Biden moderates are doomed to be stymied in looming clashes with the Democratic Party's ascendant progressive wing.

Morris, who helped Clinton pivot to the center after being yanked leftward during his first two years in the Oval Office, told Just the News he thinks this tension will ensure that Biden "will be the least powerful president since Carter."

"The Biden cabinet is filled with moderates who will do their best to preserve the status quo from the howling leftists outside," Morris told Just the News on Wednesday. "Long before he faces the problems of dealing with the opposition party, Biden will be beset by conflict among his own Democrats. The progressive wing of his party will incessantly push him to the left to satisfy their most extreme agenda."

For his labor secretary, Biden chose Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a former top union leader, despite pressure from liberal activists to pick a black (AFL-CIO Chief Economist Bill Spriggs) or Asian leader (California Labor Secretary Julie Su), according to Politico.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden's nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told Congress during his nomination hearing that — contrary to demands of liberal activists — he would not push to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Mayorkas said the agencies "play critical roles."

Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.), Biden's choice for Commerce Secretary, won an award in 2011 from a conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, for her service as the Rhode Island Treasurer, citing "Raimondo's work to define long-term retirement security through extensive public pension reforms." 

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted 84-10 to confirm Avril Haines as director of national  intelligence, giving Biden the first member of his cabinet. In a rebuff to her party's progressives, Haines said the United States was a "long ways" away from rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, the signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration.

Biden drew criticism from liberals for selecting Steve Ricchetti as a counselor in the White House, because Ricchetti is a former lobbyist who spent more than a decade working for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies.

Biden also sparked liberal outrage when he named Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) as a senior adviser and director of the Office of Public Engagement. The Sunrise Movement, a climate change youth activist group, called that move a "betrayal," because Richmond has received more than $100,000 from the oil and gas industry for his congressional campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Biden transition team did not respond to request for comment from Just the News. 

"I think centrists are pretty happy," former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told host David Brody on "The Water Cooler" television program. "I know that he has probably rubbed some of the progressives the wrong way with some of his choices, but I would caution them to be forward-thinking."

Rawlings-Blake urged progressives to "acknowledge someone's past positions" but urged liberals to "give people a chance moving forward, to show you that they can work with you, as opposed to looking at everyone as an enemy."

Biden's direction with his personnel picks makes sense, Rawlings-Blake said, because "that reflects the country … if the country and if the Democratic Party wanted a progressive progressive candidate, they wouldn't have elected Biden, and Biden won overwhelmingly." 

One example Morris cited of the pressure Biden faces is Title IX of the Civil Rights Law, mandating equality between male and female athletes and the demands of the LGBTQ community that transgender female athletes be allowed to compete against biological females in high school and college sports.

The result was that former men (some of whom had not undergone surgical change but declared themselves to be women) won every match and garnered every scholarship against their over-matched real female opponents. Trump acted to litigate against treating trans females as women. 

"That likely was Biden's preference, but, pressured by his gay supporters, he caved and moved to the left," Morris said. "Before long everyone will realize that the path to power lies through the offices of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and, probably, Susan Rice and that they owe Biden nothing more than the polite pretense of respect."

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