Joe Biden, the US president-elect, formally introduced his top economic advisers on Tuesday, as his incoming administration prepares to deal with the worst financial crisis in decades and a resurgent coronavirus pandemic.
Wearing a black boot on the right foot he recently fractured while playing with one of his dogs, Biden appeared in his home city, Wilmington, Delaware, for an event that stressed the gravity of the situation but sought to offer hope.
“We’re going to create a recovery for everybody,” Biden said. “Our message to everybody struggling right now is this: help is on the way.”
Biden’s nominations would put several women in top economic roles, drawing a clear contrast with Donald Trump and reflecting his commitment to diversity.
They include Janet Yellen, who if confirmed by the Senate will be the first woman to lead the US treasury in its 231-year history. Biden said he “might have to ask Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical about the first treasury secretary, [Alexander] Hamilton, to write another musical” about his new nominee.
Yellen led the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, focusing on maximising employment and less on price inflation. In remarks on Tuesday, she noted the damage caused by the pandemic.
“Lost lives, lost jobs, small businesses struggling to stay alive or closed for good,” she said. “So many people struggling to put food on the table and pay bills and rent.
“It’s an American tragedy and it’s essential we move with urgency. Inaction will cause a self-reinforcing downturn, causing yet more devastation. And we risk missing the obligation to address deeper structural problems.”
Biden’s nominees have all expressed support for government spending to boost employment, reduce inequality and help women and people of colour, disproportionately harmed by the downturn.
But they will face stiff headwinds from the pandemic, now estimated to be killing one American a minute. The US has 4% of the world’s population but 19% of its coronavirus deaths – more than 268,000 – with record caseloads and hospitalisations forcing renewed economic restrictions in some states.
November saw the biggest two-week jump in unemployment benefit applications since April. Several aid programmes are set to expire this month, although a bipartisan group of House and Senate members unveiled a $908bn relief bill on Tuesday in an effort to break a political stalemate.
Biden said: “The team I’m announcing today will play a critical role in shaping our plan for action starting on day one and move fast to revive this economy.”
His “Build Back Better” plan, he said, was based on a simple proposition: “Reward hard work in America, not wealth. It’s time to invest in infrastructure, clean energy, climate change, manufacturing and so much more that will create millions of good-paying jobs. It’s time we addressed the structural inequities in our economy that this pandemic has laid bare.”
Other picks include Cecilia Rouse, an economist at Princeton University who would be the first Black woman to lead the Council of Economic Advisers; the economists Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein as council members; and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress thinktank, as head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
“I’ve known Neera a long time,” Biden said. “A brilliant policy mind with critical practical experience across government. She was raised by a single mom on food stamps, an immigrant from India who struggled, worked hard and did everything she could for her daughter to live out the American dream, and Neera did just that. She understands the struggles millions of Americans are facing.”
Biden noted that Tanden would be the first woman of colour to run the OMB. But she has already proved his most divisive pick, drawing criticism from Republicans. Some analysts suggest she is a “sacrificial lamb”, likely to be denied confirmation in a fight that might distract attention from other nominees.
Since being nominated, Tanden has deleted more than a thousand tweets, some of which were critical of senators who will vote on her confirmation, the Daily Beast reported.
Claire McCaskill, a former senator from Missouri, told MSNBC: “It’s a whole new level of hypocrisy. The Republican senators are now all of a sudden worried about tweets that hurt their feelings. This is just ridiculous.
“We’ve had a president who has used his Twitter account like a battering ram, going after not just his political opponents but Republican senators, unfairly, with incredibly brutal tweets. Now all of a sudden it’s a disqualification for someone to serve in the cabinet that engaged in her own opinion on Twitter? I think that’s dumb.”
Tanden has also been unpopular on the left, having been a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for Sanders’s 2020 campaign, tweeted: “Everything toxic about the corporate Democratic party is embodied in Neera Tanden.”
For Biden, Tuesday’s sober and determined presentation was the latest sign that the transition is gathering unstoppable momentum despite Trump’s false claims of vote rigging and refusal to concede.
On Monday, Biden received his first full classified intelligence briefing since winning the 3 November election, after Trump delayed the process for weeks. And Arizona and Wisconsin officially recognised Biden’s victory, meaning Trump’s legal team has lost six of six attempts to stop states certifying their results. Trump has pursued challenges in numerous states but most have been tossed out.
Yet the president continues his quixotic effort. The Trump campaign on Tuesday asked the Wisconsin supreme court to determine if 221,000 absentee ballots that allegedly lacked information should be excluded from vote totals. Biden won the state by about 20,000 votes.
The electoral college, which selects the president based on state-by-state results, is scheduled to meet on 14 December. Biden will take office on 20 January.