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Bernie Sanders Is Actively Running for Labor Secretary

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.) is active­ly reach­ing out to allies in a bid to build sup­port for being picked as Sec­re­tary of Labor in the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, accord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton source who spoke to Sanders directly. 

Sanders’ inter­est in the posi­tion was report­ed by Politi­co in Octo­ber, pri­or to Biden’s vic­to­ry in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. At the time, Sanders said he was focused sole­ly on the elec­tion ahead. Last week, Axios report­ed that Biden’s team was ?“con­sid­er­ing an infor­mal ban on nam­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. sen­a­tors to the Cab­i­net if he wins,” which would pre­clude Sanders from being selected. 

If that is the case, Sanders him­self is not let­ting it slow him down. This week, he has already begun mak­ing calls to allies in pol­i­tics and the labor world, say­ing that he wants to make a run at the posi­tion of Labor Secretary. 

Phil Scott, the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of Ver­mont, said last month that he would appoint a replace­ment who would cau­cus with Democ­rats should Sanders leave the Sen­ate to join the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, a move that means Democ­rats would not be at risk of los­ing a valu­able Sen­ate vote. Still, the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is that Biden’s abil­i­ty to get very pro­gres­sive cab­i­net sec­re­taries like Sanders con­firmed hinges on the Democ­rats tak­ing con­trol of the Sen­ate?—?an uncer­tain propo­si­tion that would require them win­ning two runoff elec­tions in Georgia. 

Oth­er names float­ed recent­ly as pos­si­bil­i­ties for Biden’s Labor Sec­re­tary include for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Labor com­mis­sion­er Julie Su, AFL-CIO econ­o­mist Bill Sprig­gs, and Michi­gan con­gress­man Andy Levin?—?him­self a for­mer AFL-CIO offi­cial. Major unions have not come for­ward with for­mal endorse­ments, but all of the can­di­dates have their back­ers inside orga­nized labor. (Levin has already received the pub­lic sup­port of Chris Shel­ton, the head of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca.) Though Biden’s record is not as pro­gres­sive on labor issues as Sanders, he ran as a vocal ally of unions, and his choice for Labor Sec­re­tary will be expect­ed to have strong pro-union bona fides. 

The news that Sanders is still try­ing for the posi­tion is sure to ener­gize pro­gres­sives who believe that they are owed sig­nif­i­cant rewards for their sup­port of Biden dur­ing the cam­paign. After Biden won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, he formed a task force with sup­port­ers of both him and Sanders, which issued a set of rec­om­men­da­tions wide­ly seen as a tool to pull Biden to the left. Hav­ing Bernie Sanders as Labor Sec­re­tary would give him an inside perch from which to launch efforts to put those rec­om­men­da­tions into prac­tice inside the administration. 

Today, Biden’s tran­si­tion team announced the mem­bers of its Agency Review teams, which are tasked with prepar­ing each fed­er­al agency for the new admin­is­tra­tion. Among the 23 mem­bers assigned to review the Depart­ment of Labor is Josh Orton, a senior advi­sor to Bernie Sanders. Orton declined to com­ment on Sanders’ pur­suit of the agency’s top job. A spokesper­son for Sanders’ office also declined to comment.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.


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