Biden's Wall Street pals think they have his ear despite snubs
Wall Street veteran Charles Myers got a surprise Wednesday in his Park Avenue home office. The longtime Democratic donor and former vice chairman at investment bank Evercore was sitting near photos of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Margaret Thatcher when he read the names on Joe Biden's new economic policy task force.
None of his financial industry friends were there. Myers saw one congresswoman, two labor leaders and five economists from academia or think tanks.
"I literally don't know any of them — I've never heard of them," Myers said after Biden and vanquished rival Sen. Bernie Sanders announced the members of the "unity" policy committees, part of a broader Biden effort to keep progressives engaged with his campaign.
Yet the banker isn't bothered. Wall Street's Democratic insiders, who have been cutting checks and winning access for decades, say they have plenty of sway in Biden's orbit, despite his very public wooing of the progressive left. Some finance veterans have even begun to think about the spots they might land in Washington if Biden wins.
Myers, a bundler for the Biden Victory Fund and chairman of Signum Global Advisors, said keeping bankers off the task force was "a very tactical and very smart move."
"But it doesn't mean that, in the end, the selection of Cabinet members will be determined by these people," Myers said.
Close Biden adviser Ted Kaufman, a former U.S. senator, said personnel decisions would be guided by the principles Biden has campaigned on. Biden has argued that he's better suited than President Donald Trump to rebuild the economy in 2021, citing his oversight of the stimulus money released by the Obama administration when he was vice president.
"We're going to have people involved in the administration who, as he's said time and time again, make sure that we deliver an economic recovery that redounds to the benefit of the middle class — not like the coronavirus stimulus and not like the Trump tax bill, where the majority of the benefits went to the top 1%," he said.
Trump, who picked Goldman Sachs alumni to be his Treasury secretary and first economic adviser, has cut taxes for the rich and the companies they run, and is now consulting billionaires from the hedge fund and the private equity industries on reopening the economy as the coronavirus pandemic eases.
Lots of ideas
If Biden wins in November, one top Wall Street executive is hoping to get a position in the Defense Department, and a veteran of a global bank wouldn't be interested in anything but the top Treasury spot, they said, asking not to be named.
Myers said he doesn't want an administration job, but has ideas for Biden on possible appointees. He'd recommend Tom Nides, a vice chairman of Morgan Stanley; Evercore founder Roger Altman; BlackRock boss Larry Fink, Blackstone's Tony James; and Blair Effron, co-founder of Centerview Partners, where Goldman executive-turned-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin is a counselor, among others.
They're all members of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, a group of executives who tend to celebrate Wall Street rather than try to undermine it, and who were often annoyed by Sanders's and Sen. Elizabeth Warren's presidential bids.
Several have been throwing or attending fundraisers for Biden for months. Rubin was spotted at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel last year, where the candidate said he "may not want to demonize anybody who has made money." Top Goldman executive Stephen Scherr and former Goldman partner Eric Mindich were there, too.
Sarah Bianchi, who worked for Mindich's hedge fund before she became Biden's head of economic and domestic policy in the Obama administration, is now head of public policy for Evercore. She also ran the Biden Institute's policy advisory board, a group that included Mindich, Nides, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and JPMorgan Chase executive Peter Scher. Summers is a commentator for Bloomberg Television and its "Wall Street Week" program.
Jeff Zients, a former Obama economic adviser who now runs the Cranemere Group, a holding company that buys businesses, threw a Washington fundraiser for Biden. It was co-hosted by Michael Froman, Obama's U.S. Trade Representative and now an executive for Mastercard Inc.
Fink, the billionaire who runs the world's largest asset manager, has been seen on Wall Street for years as a potential Treasury secretary. BlackRock's head of sustainable investing, Brian Deese, and the chairman of its investment institute, Tom Donilon, both had top roles in Obama's White House. Obama's two Treasury chiefs, Jacob Lew and Timothy Geithner, are now private equity executives.
'Not bad folks'
"Wall Street are not bad folks, but they didn't build this country," Biden said last week during a fundraiser hosted by Comcast executive David L. Cohen. "The middle class built the country, ordinary women and men capable of doing extraordinary things, that's who I believe in, that's why I'm in this race."
Not everyone thinks Biden will surround himself with bankers and billionaires, and Biden himself has been careful to balance his need for their advice and money and his quest to attract middle-class and progressive voters.
"The Biden camp includes people who believe that government has too often been captured by the industries that it ought to regulate — it also includes people who have helped industries co-opt government," said Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank in Washington.
"I am optimistic that Biden understands that his legacy involves shifting to the left, and becoming more populist on a variety of economic issues. He has had an instinct for understanding the movement of the Democratic Party for two generations," Hauser said.
Robert Wolf, a former UBS Group AG executive, said he believes Biden can win over a majority of Wall Street and business leaders, who could then help him in the years to come. "The nation is his Rolodex," said Wolf, who now runs the firm 32 Advisors. "And he'll have a group of experts to choose from to lead the recovery."
Campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said Biden's aim is to build a stronger middle class "with the most progressive, far-reaching, bold and transformational agenda of any president since the Great Society. That mission will dictate all of his decisions when it comes to building a Biden administration."