Two of the progressive movement’s leading organizations are demanding former Vice President Joe Biden jettison his new economic adviser, Larry Summers, over a perceived pro-business tilt.
Justice Democrats, which has been instrumental in electing progressive firebrands like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and the Sunrise Movement—a climate change advocacy group—announced Friday they would launch a petition calling on Biden to sever ties with Summers. The groups, in particular, are opposed to Summers, who was secretary of the treasury under President Bill Clinton, for his long held support for liberalized trade policies and business deregulation. Most notably, they argued Summers’ advocacy for the Keystone pipeline and his opposition to a wealth tax indicates a friendliness toward Wall Street and corporate America.
“Larry Summers’ legacy is advocating for policies that contributed to the skyrocketing inequality and climate crisis we’re living with today,” both organizations said in a statement announcing the petition. Adding that they hoped the former vice president “publicly rejects Summers‘ role as an economic advisor to better earn the trust” of young voters.
The groups’ criticism, although colored by ideological considerations, is not without merit. In fact, when the former treasury secretary’s affiliation with the Biden campaign was first noted on Thursday by Bloomberg News, it was floated as a means to pacify business interests unsure of the former vice president’s recent shift to the left on vital issues, especially bankruptcy reform.
“Summers’s involvement in Biden’s campaign, however, offered some reassurance to Wall Street that Biden is not moving too far to the left from the centrist positions that earned him his establishment support,” the outlet reported.
Even before Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement swung into action, the Biden campaign was rushing to downplay the significance of Summers’ role. A top adviser for the former vice president told Reuters on Thursday the former treasury secretary would be only one of a “very large and well-rounded informal network” of economic experts.
“Joe Biden’s will be the most progressive agenda of any president in generations, and he looks forward to his continuing engagement with progressive leaders to build on his existing policies and further the bold goals driving his campaign,” the adviser added.
Despite such rhetoric from the campaign, a number of high profile progressives, many of whom are already wary of Biden, responded poorly to the news. Glenn Greenwald sarcastically summed up the feelings of many on the left Thursday, claiming Summers’ appointment showed just how far to the left Democrats had really moved in recent years.
“The Dems are more to the left than ever!!!! Larry Summers is helping them in their new leftism,” Greenwald wrote on social media. “It’s so lefty and inspiring.”
The Dems are more to the left than ever!!!! Larry Summers is helping them in their new leftism. It's so lefty and inspiring. https://t.co/gc0Xq0vz1R
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 23, 2020
Others were similarly brusque in commenting on Summers’ new role within the Biden camp. Like Justice Democrats, most of the organizations and individuals issuing rebukes were either former supporters or staffers of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) failed presidential campaign.
Biden's xenophobic ad and his welcoming of Larry Summers back into an economic advisory role means he's doing exactly what Hillary Clinton did in 2016, just with a smile.
He's fundamentally incapable of grasping progressives' goals and won't do the bare minimum to appease them.
— Emma Vigeland (@EmmaVigeland) April 24, 2020
Larry Summers has disqualified himself from public life in so many ways that the idea of asking him for advice should itself be disqualifying in any sane world.
— Claire Sandberg (@clairesandberg) April 24, 2020
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) April 24, 2020
The backlash illustrates the ideological challenge before Biden as he seeks to unite Democrats ahead of the general election. Recent events, though, seem to imply there will be no quick or easy solution. Just last week, the former national press secretary for the Sanders campaign, Briahna Joy Gray, refused to follow her onetime boss in backing the former vice president because of his moderate standing.
“I supported Bernie Sanders because he backed ideas like Medicare for All, cancelling ALL student debt, [and] a wealth tax,” she announced shortly after Sanders decided to throw his weight behind the former vice president. “Biden supports none of those.”
On Thursday, Gray was no less biting about Summers’ appointment as economic adviser.
“I ask again,” the former spokeswoman said upon the news, “who is Biden serving?