Few (If Any) Progressives on Clinton’s Transition Team
Former financial regulator Bill Black explains how this will affect the policy she would pursue on the TPP, foreign policy, and the environment during her first term
KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown.
Hillary Clinton isn’t letting the impending November election get in the way of planning her presidency. The Democratic nominee on Tuesday announced her White House transition team. One team that could be, for the first time, the majority of women on this team.
To discuss this we’re joined on the line with Bill Black. He’s an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Bill, thanks again for joining us.
BILL BLACK: Thank you.
BROWN: Bill, we’re looking at a lot of DNC insiders when we’re seeing Hillary Clinton’s transition team being headed up by former Secretary of Interior Kim Salazar, who’s also a former senator from Colorado. When you look at some of the members of this team, what were some of the things that jumped out at you?
BLACK: Okay, so first, the transition team is one of the absolute most important things in the world for a new administration. And obviously the vetting at this point is heavily in favor of Hillary Clinton winning. And so this transition team will likely be the one shaping government for much of, at least the first term, of the Hillary Clinton presidency if the polls continue to go this way. So this is what the polisci-type pros and the politician-type pros really look at, is this transition team.
Now, it’s not just they named it now. They have to name it now. These things are actually mandated and funded. And so you can see that it’s many months in advance. The idea is, of course, that it takes many months of work behind the scenes, so that cliché of all cliches, they can hit the ground running when they’re actually sworn in at the inaugural.
And so the transition team is the one that is both deciding what are we actually going to make our policy priorities in the magic, again a cliché, first 100 days? But more than that, who will the top people be? Who are we going to vet, to hold all of the cabinet positions, and many non-cabinet positions, as well. The whole staffing of the senior leadership of the White House.
So this is a position of enormous power. So Podesta is the campaign chief, may become chief of staff, has done that before. These are the two most powerful positions, chief of staff, transition team leader, because they pick everybody else. And everybody else reports to them, and you can’t get access to the candidate except by going through these people frequently. Particularly assuming that Hillary wins in November. The November-January period. Then you become also a gatekeeper in terms of what can happen.
And these aren’t just DNC regulars, Democratic National Committee regulars. What you’re seeing is complete domination by what used to be the Democratic Leadership Council. So this was a group we talked about in the past. Very, very, very right-wing foreign policy. What they called a muscular foreign policy, which was a euphemism for invading places. And very, very tough on crime. This was that era of mass incarceration that Bill Clinton pushed, and it’s when Hillary was talking about black superpredators, this myth, this so dangerous myth.
And the economic side, they were all in favor of austerity. All in favor of privatization. Tried to do a deal with Newt Gingrich to privatize Social Security. And of course, were all in favor of things like NAFTA.
So come forward, Hillary Clinton has attempted to rebrand herself as a progressive that’s come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she of course was always in favor of before the campaign, has come out against the Keystone pipeline that she was in favor of before. But both her choice of vice president, Tim Kaine, the person who was number two on her shortlist for vice president, Vilsack, and now Salazar, these are all PLC acolytes who worship at basically the Reagan school of–Ronald Reagan school of economics.
And so Salazar is all for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Salazar is all for the revolving door. Indeed, illustrates the revolving door. He’s now at WilmerHale, one of the most politically powerful law firms, based primarily in Washington, DC. And the entire world’s got something like 30 ex-public, senior public officials at this law firm. And he’s all in favor of fracking, for example, as well. And all in favor of the Keystone pipeline.
Also, Colorado, as people know, probably, is a very big energy state. That’s what you’re seeing.
BROWN: Well, Bill, that doesn’t really sound like progressive policy. And I know Hillary Clinton is attempting to rebrand herself as a progressive. You know, the DNC passed their so-called most progressive platform in history. And yet the head of Hillary Clinton’s transitional team, the former Secretary of Interior, went on the record to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, that there’s no proof that fracking, the process of extracting energy through hydraulic fracturing, using clean water to extract gas out of shale rock, Ken Salazar said this doesn’t cause any environmental harm. Does this match up with what Hillary Clinton is trying to project in terms of progressivism?
BLACK: No. it’s the tell that none of it is real. And by the way, you don’t inject clean water. Now, what you do inject is a secret. And they are attempting, the oil companies, to prevent the public from learning what’s injected, which of course makes it kind of difficult to study the consequences of all of this. And of course, once you’ve injected it it most assuredly doesn’t come back out as clean water and such.
So no, and indeed there has just been an internal review at the EPA dinging them for their earlier writeup about fracking, which, if you read the substance, suggests that there are many environmental problems. But then the adjectival description would lead you to the opposite, as I say, the internal audit. The EPA has heavily criticized that writeup as biased, and says that the underlying science, which is revealed but sort of hidden at the same time in the report, suggests that there may be very substantial problems that need to be checked out and have not been appropriately researched.
So they’re wrong on substance. This move to the left was purely calculated for political purposes. And all of the team that’s going to hire all the key people and vet the key people for the most senior positions for at least the first several years of what increasingly looks likely to be a Clinton administration are going to be picked by these people who are the opposite of progressive.
Hillary Clinton is the moderate wing of the Republican Party. It does have a candidate. It’s called Hillary Clinton. But these people like Salazar are completely unreconstructed, in the pocket of big oil. They are big law, they are the revolving door. They are everything that is wrong with the country.
BROWN: Well, Bill, let me–let me run down who the remaining co-chairs of her transitional team are. They include Tom Donilon, who was President Obama’s former national security adviser. Also Neera Tanden, who runs the Center for American Progress, former governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm, and Maggie Williams, the director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
But let’s shift gears for a moment, Bill, because Donald Trump has also made some announcements about his transitional team being headed up by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, which sort of is an interesting relationship in a number of ways. However, there was a story that Trump’s casinos owed the state of New Jersey a sum of money. And Chris Christie, perhaps, was able to bring that sum down quite considerably. What can you tell us about that?
BLACK: Okay. So this, of course, is the great gift that Hillary Clinton has. It’s called Donald Trump. So if you have the second-worst negatives in history, it’s good to be running against the person who has the worst negatives in history, where we’ve had these polls, and that’s Donald Trump.
Christie, of course, has pathetically abased himself to try to curry favor with Trump. But Trump has given him this position of running the transition. Now, you know, the polls are likely going to show this is going to be anywhere near as important a job as Salazar, because they’re not going to win the election, and all the work will be useless.
But yes, what has come out is, as people have heard, Trump brags about declaring bankruptcy. And in the debates, said, and this is almost a direct quotation, all the greatest property developers do this. Right? So it tells you something about American business if all the greatest are billionaires–the others are real billionaires, Trump isn’t–but in any event, they have enough money to pay. And they refuse to pay. Well, if you refuse to pay, people lose. And those people are called creditors, and those creditors include workers. And they include small businesses that themselves go bankrupt, and then have to fire their employees, and can’t pay their creditors and such.
And it includes the government, because the way you make money in real estate is through politics in most countries, including the United States. You give political contributions, and the state, or city, or the region gives you a series of tax breaks and subsidies to locate your plant or hotel or office building in their state. And they may also give you cheap loans, as well. So you go bankrupt. You owe, in many cases, part of the government. In this case, the government of New Jersey, or the Port Authorities and such.
But here’s the thing that people should need to know, because it’s going to come up in your lifetime many, many times, and came up in the housing crisis: when two businesses are locked in one of these disputes, it is very common not to have a bankruptcy, but to have the creditors say, okay, okay, you can’t pay me 100 cents on the dollar. Again, Trump could have, but lots of places can’t. You can’t pay me 100 cents on the dollar of your debt. So we’ll stretch out your payments over six years instead of two years, and we’ll reduce the interest rate from 10 percent to 5 percent, and we’ll reduce the loan amount from $10 million to $6 million. That’s called troubled debt restructuring. And it’s done every day dozens of times in business.
But what happened when you were a homeowner, and you tried to do the same thing? They went crazy and talked about immoral, shiftless minorities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The Mortgage Bankers Association did one of these troubled debt restructurings on its own office buildings, and then was quoted in op-eds in the Wall Street Journal about how terrible it was that homeowners were trying to do the same thing, and how it reflected the declining morality of the United States of America.
So what did the governor of New Jersey do? Well what did New Jersey do, possibly do to the governor? Certainly do to his appointees. Even though Trump could have paid 100 cents on the dollar, it dramatically reduced the debt. And that’s just a transfer of money from the taxpayers to a very rich, very sleazy real estate developer. And, you know, you get rewarded for doing bad things, and this one is actually one of the lesser rewards, being named to run the transition team.
BROWN: Well, Bill, that’s certainly one way of looking at it. We’ve run out of time, but we certainly appreciate your analysis today. We’ve been speaking with Bill Black. He is an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. We’ve been discussing the transition teams of both presidential candidates, and they are an interesting bunch, to say the least. Bill, we appreciate your time, as always.
BLACK: Thank you.
BROWN: Thanks for watching the Real News Network.
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