Wall Street Completes Its Takeover Of Washington

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Adam Barnes General Assignment Reporter
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President-elect Joe Biden introduced Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware six members  of his diverse economic policy team. Biden and Vice-president elect Kamala Harris championed his picks as the leaders who will usher Americans out of economic turmoil brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden’s expected pick for director of the National Economic Council (NEC) is Brian Deese, who served as both deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the NEC during the Obama administration. During his tenure, Deese worked on environmental issues and the auto industry bailout. After his stint with the Obama White House, Deese assumed a role with the investment firm BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.

Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project, a group that monitors corporate interests and influence in government told Reuters that BlackRock’s stake in policy decisions could compel Deese to recuse himself in some situations.

“He will either be absent from big chunks of his job or proceed without regard to the conflicts of interest,” Hauser said.

BlackRock in February became a signatory of Climate Action 100+, a pact that’s pushing for the largest greenhouse gas emitting companies to act against climate change and become carbon-neutral by 2050, MarketWatch reported.

“We believe evidence of the impact of climate risk on investment portfolios is building rapidly and we are accelerating our engagement with companies on this critical issue,” a spokesman for BlackRock told MarketWatch.

Deese will join Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, Biden’s pick to join Janet Yellen at the Treasury department, as the second BlackRock alum to get the Biden team’s nod. Adeyemo, who worked in the Treasury department during the Obama administration, was a senior adviser for BlackRock from 2017 to 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Tyler Gellasch, a former senior Senate and at the Securities and Exchange Commission staffer, tweeted his own potential misgivings about Deese.

“Brian Deese may be a very good NEC Director. He’s really smart and works hard. But when he was in the Obama admin, he pushed FOR financial deregulation and austerity, but AGAINST raising corporate taxes,” Gellasch tweeted. “Many think we need the opposite now. So what would he do?”

Yet Deese’s position at BlackRock, according to the Washington Post, explains why he could be a safe pick for Biden. Columnist Paul Waldman wrote that Hauser’s warning about Deese potential conflicts of interest might be misplaced.

“Deese’s job at BlackRock was to promote investments in clean energy. His title was “Global Head of Sustainable Investing,” and he does receive praise from some liberals for that work,” Waldman wrote.

Several other Biden picks have drawn criticism for their lobbying and corporate connections. Biden’s Secretary of State pick Antony Blinken and expected defense secretary nominee Michèle Flournoy have ties to consulting and investment firms, according to the New York Times.

Blinken co-founded WestExec Advisors after serving as Biden’s national security advisor from 2009-2013 and Barack Obama’s deputy national security advisor and deputy secretary of state from 2013 to 2017, The Daily Caller reported. (RELATED: Here’s Where Biden’s Secretary Of State Pick Tony Blinken Stands On China, Iran, Russia, And More)

Flournoy a co-founder of WestExec, told The Intercept in 2018, the firm was made up of “people recently coming out of government” who would could “help tech firms who are trying to figure out how to sell in the public sector space, to navigate the DOD, the intel community, law enforcement.”

Andrew Bates, a Biden spokesman, told NYT that Blinken left West Exec when he joined the Biden campaign in August.

“Joe Biden has pledged the most ethically rigorous administration in American history, and every cabinet member will abide by strict ethics rules and abide by all disclosure requirements,” Bates said.