Ari Berman, political correspondent for The Nation magazine and an investigative journalism fellow at the Nation Institute. He is author of the book Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.
President Obama appointed William Daley, a top financial executive and former Clinton administration official, as his new White House chief of staff. Daley is the Midwest chair of JPMorgan Chase, a board member of Merck, and former head of SBC. Obama will also reportedly name former Goldman Sachs consultant Gene Sperling to head the National Economic Council. We speak with Ari Berman of The Nation magazine. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama has announced his new chief of staff to steer the White House ahead of his reelection bid next year. On Thursday, Obama named William Daley, a top financial executive and former commerce secretary in the Clinton administration.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job. He served as a member of President Clinton’s cabinet as commerce secretary. He took on several other important duties over the years on behalf of our country. He’s led major corporations. He possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy. And needless to say, Bill also has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works. You might say it is a genetic trait. But most of all, I know Bill to be somebody who cares deeply about this country, believes in its promise, and considers no calling higher and more important than serving the American people.
JUAN GONZALEZ: In his acceptance speech, Daley praised Obama by invoking the memory of a childhood visit to the White House under President John F. Kennedy.
WILLIAM DALEY: Fifty years ago this month, I visited the White House with my parents and my brothers and sisters to visit a young president, who went on to show great strength, leadership and vision in the face of enormous challenges in those times. You, Mr. President, have proven your strength, your leadership, your vision, during a most difficult time for our nation and for the world. You have also shown, through your example, that public service is an honorable calling, and I am pleased to answer your call.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Daley replaces Rahm Emanuel, who resigned last year to run for mayor of Chicago. Daley himself is the brother of Chicago’s current mayor, Richard Daley. The news media has widely described the appointment as an attempt to mend Obama’s supposed frayed ties to Wall Street. Bill Daley served as commerce secretary under President Clinton and played a key role in orchestrating the North American Free Trade Agreement. He’s the Midwest chair of JPMorgan Chase, a board member of the pharmaceutical giant Merck, and former head of telecommunications giant SBC, where he lobbied heavily for deregulation of the phone industry.
AMY GOODMAN: Daley’s appointment has raised eyebrows, in part over his apparent opposition to two of President Obama’s biggest domestic initiatives so far. As a JPMorgan executive, Daley rejected the administration’s request to publicly support establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Agency in the overhaul of financial regulation. And in an interview with the New York Times last year, Daley criticized the administration’s top domestic policy achievement: healthcare reform. Daley said, quote, "They miscalculated on health care. The election of ’08 sent a message that after 30 years of center-right governing, we had moved to center left — not left.""
In another move expected to please Wall Street, President Obama today will reportedly name Gene Sperling to head the National Economic Council, replacing Lawrence Summers. Sperling served in the same post under President Bill Clinton. In 2008, he earned nearly $900,000 at Goldman Sachs and an additional $158,000 in speaking fees.
Well, for more, we’re joined now by Ari Berman, political correspondent for The Nation magazine, investigative journalism fellow at the Nation Institute. His first book, recently released, is called Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.
Well, talk first about William Daley.
ARI BERMAN: Well, thanks for having me.
Well, he’s certainly, as you guys mention in your intro, the candidate of the corporate and political establishment — deep ties to the business industry, not only working for JPMorgan, but also serving on the boards of companies like Boeing, Merck, Abbott Labs, so deep ties there. A big political insider, working as a fixer for President Clinton, commerce secretary, pushing NAFTA, working for Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 again. And then deep ties to the Chicago world, which Obama also knows very well, as the brother of outgoing mayor Richard Daley. So he brings all those different experiences, which I imagine — I guess, the combination of which Obama really wanted in his White House going forward. But it does feel like the Clinton era now is back with a vengeance, and perhaps not in the best way.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, to no surprise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce immediately praised this appointment of Daley’s —
ARI BERMAN: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: — despite the fact the Chamber has been battling the Obama administration almost from the beginning.
ARI BERMAN: Well, it was a little surreal to see not only the Chamber, but also Karl Rove, praise Obama’s pick for chief of staff. But I think this is exactly what the Obama administration wanted. As you say, there seems to be a belief — I think somewhat of a surreal one — that the banks are an underrepresented constituency in Washington nowadays and that the way that they have to appease people like the Chamber is to bring in someone who they like and who actually advised them. As you mentioned earlier, he advised the Chamber on financial deregulation before the economic crisis, and once the economic crisis happened, he actually pushed to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. My feeling is more is going to come out about Daley’s work for the Chamber and some of these other groups in what exactly he did in terms of lobbying. But I think the signs that it sent, which are going to be unsettling to listeners of this program and viewers of this program, is the exact things that Obama will like about the appointment.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, what does this mean in terms of potential conflicts of stuff that crosses his desk?
ARI BERMAN: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I mean, what will he have to recuse himself from, in terms of his new post?
ARI BERMAN: Well, theoretically, a lot. I mean, JPMorgan is a huge company with all sorts of issues before the federal government; Boeing; obviously, when it comes to Merck and Abbott Labs, I mean, the whole healthcare bill. So, it’ll be very interesting. I mean, as chief of staff, he is the main gatekeeper now for the Obama White House, and he has all manner of corporate relationships. It’s going to be very delicate for him to manage that. We won’t really know, honestly, in a lot of cases — is he recusing himself? What’s going on? It’s not exactly like there’s a clear watchdog for the chief of staff. So, this is something that people are going to have to focus on very closely going forward.
AMY GOODMAN: You quote AFL-CIO former head, John Sweeney, once saying that Daley stood "squarely on the opposite side of working families."
ARI BERMAN: Yeah, and that was in response to Daley pushing hard to normalize trade relations with China, in a similar way that he had pushed very hard to pass NAFTA. He was the main architect of NAFTA. And Al Gore basically gave him all the credit for pushing NAFTA and then for pushing China.
It was interesting, the AFL — new AFL-CIO head, Rich Trumka, put out a very tepid statement about Daley yesterday. And I talked to Trumka, actually, yesterday afternoon. I said, "Do you want to elaborate?" And he said, "No." But it’s clear that they’re watching this with some trepidation, wondering what he’s going to do, what policies he’s going to push. As you remember, I mean, the Obama administration now is pushing hard on the deficit. People are wondering what’s going to be the policy for year three. Will they touch issues like Social Security, like Medicare? And that’s the worry about Daley. I mean, he served on the board of another group, Third Way, the very pro-corporate, centrist Democratic group. And one of the things that they praised him for was his work on, quote, "reforming entitlements," which sounds to a lot of people now like code words for gutting Medicare and Social Security. So, people are watching this closely and wondering what’s going to happen as a result of Daley being in there.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about Gene Sperling? Because, obviously, JPMorgan Chase —- Goldman Sachs was worried that JPMorgan Chase would have an inside track -—
ARI BERMAN: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: — with Daley, so now he names to Gene Sperling, formerly of Goldman Sachs.
ARI BERMAN: I’d say Gene Sperling is less of Goldman Sachs than Bill Daley is of JPMorgan. I mean, he was there for a brief period of time. He did make a lot of money, but he was advising them more on charitable giving. So I don’t think he’s a total corporate insider. I think the progressives that I talked to, they weren’t thrilled with Sperling, but they weren’t unhappy with him, either. He’s viewed as somewhat of a neutral broker. In the Clinton administration, he did push for NAFTA, policies like that. He also did push for more spending. He wrote a book called The Pro-Growth Progressive, that’s tried to balance Clintonomics with some more progressive economics. So I think he’s viewed as more of a fair broker. But again, the Clinton team is being reinforced here. And the worry is, in the same way that Clinton triangulated post-’94, will Obama do his own version of that going forward? He certainly has the team in place now to go do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Remind people, in terms of Daley, what the Consumer Protection Agency is all about that was set up and what his opposition to it means.
ARI BERMAN: Yeah, well, it was going to be the watchdog, and it’s going to be the watchdog, for basically ordinary people, to stem credit card abuses and financial industry abuses and to actually have some power inside the federal government to do something about it, which previously didn’t exist. And so, that’s why the banks and the credit card companies and other people were so adamant in terms of opposing it. And that’s why Daley, as head of lobbying, basically, for JPMorgan, didn’t want it in the bill. It was very much a flash point of controversy in this whole financial protection bill.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read a quote from a December 2009 opinion piece by Bill Daley for the Washington Post. Daley wrote, quote, "The Democratic Party [...] has a critical decision to make: Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come. [...] All that is required for the Democratic Party to recover its political footing is to acknowledge that the agenda of the party’s most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans — and, based on that recognition, to steer a more moderate course on the key issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan."
ARI BERMAN: Well, this is an absolute right-wing talking point that he’s pushing. I mean, if you look at the Obama administration, they’ve been squarely in the center when it comes to pretty much every issue, whether it’s healthcare abandoning the public option, the stimulus loading up with tax cuts, financial reform not breaking up the banks. They’ve, over and over again, distanced themselves from the progressive community and from the left. Escalated in Afghanistan. They’ve tried to govern from the, quote-unquote, "center." And so, I think Daley is just reinforcing the notion that Obama is on the far left, which we all know is not true. And so, if Daley believes Obama was too far left in the last two years, when he was really, I think, in the center, then I think in the next two years, as he moves to the right, what was previously regarded as the center may all but cease to exist.
AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, we want to thank you for being with us, political correspondent for The Nation magazine, an investigative journalism fellow at the Nation Institute. His new book is called Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.
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