Progressive groups are protesting news that Larry Summers is advising presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on economic policy, calling on the former vice president to cut ties with the former Obama administration adviser who is something of a bogeyman for those in the left flank of the Democratic Party.
Summers is among dozens of economists currently informally advising the campaign, Bloomberg first reported Thursday. HuffPost later confirmed the report with the Biden campaign.
Biden’s campaign has yet to build a substantial in-house policy team, and has largely relied on outside advisers to inform policy and positions throughout the campaign. Summers’ presence within this circle of outside advisers was met with an outpouring of criticism from progressive groups.
Two groups aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, started a petition on Friday in which they call on Biden to no longer use Summers as an adviser.
“Larry Summers’s legacy is advocating for policies that contributed to the skyrocketing inequality and climate crisis we’re living with today,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Joe Biden has a major trust gap that he must overcome with progressives and voters under 45 who voted overwhelmingly against him in the primary and who he’ll need to defeat Donald Trump.”
Summers has long been one of the most exalted economists in the world. He had roles in the Reagan, Clinton and Obama administrations and has served as the chief economist at the World Bank. He is known for his deep ties to Wall Street and Silicon Valley and for repeatedly backing bailouts for big financial institutions, and has been criticized for leaving middle-class workers with little assistance. It is precisely Summers’ kind of economic thinking that led to the rise of movements like Occupy Wall Street and the unexpected support for Sanders’ two presidential runs after the Great Recession.
Progressive groups have long been lobbying to take down Summers. Naomi Klein, a progressive author and activist, argued to “banish” Summers from public life in a 2009 column in The Washington Post. In 2013, a coalition of activist groups and progressive lawmakers — including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who clashed with Summers during the 2008 financial crisis — successfully tanked Summers’ nomination as Federal Reserve chairman.
Biden’s campaign tried to downplay Summers’ role, saying he was one of many economists it has consulted and that he holds no formal position within the campaign. (The Biden team has turned to Summers before, reportedly referring journalists to him when they sought comment on Warren’s health care plan last year.)
“Our campaign is in touch with a very large and well-rounded informal network of experts, on the economy, public health, and many other issues,” a Biden campaign aide told HuffPost. The aide noted that the campaign also seeks advice from people such as Jared Bernstein, who served as an economic adviser under the Obama administration, and Heather Boushey, who runs a think tank about income inequality.
“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 aide said in a statement.
Summers was a fierce critic of some of the most progressive policy ideas floated during the Democratic primary. He said Warren’s signature wealth tax proposal was “approaching confiscatory” and should be seen as a last resort, and he called her plan to transition to a single-payer “Medicare For All” system “dangerous” — two critiques Biden echoed on the campaign trail.
The news about Summers advising Biden comes as groups including Demand Progress and Revolving Door Project look to find ways to influence the campaign’s future personnel picks. More than two dozen good government and ethics groups published an open letter on Thursday in which they called on Biden to make the campaign’s personnel-picking process more transparent.
“People like Larry Summers, and others of his archetype ― Larry Fink, Jamie Dimon, Tom Nides ― have no place in Democratic politics at this juncture. We need to elevate people who aren’t responsible for crises,” David Segal, who runs Demand Progress, said in reference to potential, but unconfirmed, Biden administration picks named in an Axios report.
“In the primary Biden benefited from his association with Obama, but it’s very hard to transfer that shine to Larry Summers,” Segal said, noting that more people are attuned to that shift in politics these days.
Biden pledged to win over progressive voters when Sanders endorsed his candidacy earlier this month, and he pledged to “not let [Sanders] down.” The Sanders and Biden campaigns have been negotiating six task forces on policy and personnel. Neither campaign has announced who will be on those task forces.