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Black Democrats demand minority lead Treasury Department under Biden

Some Black lawmakers are demanding Joe Biden tap an African American nominee to lead the Treasury, complicating prospects for establishment women — like Lael Brainard, Janet Yellen and Sarah Bloom Raskin — to become the first female Treasury secretary.

Why it matters: That could put high-profile Black candidates from the financial services industry in play, including Roger Ferguson, the CEO of TIAA, and Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments.


The big picture: As a Biden victory looks increasingly likely, Democratic Party interest groups are looking to personnel decisions as a way to consolidate power and steer the direction of his prospective presidency.

  • "We all know that minorities have been mistreated historically by the fiscal policies of this country," Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is spearheading the effort, told me. "There's no substitute for being in charge."
  • "This is the right time to recognize the most loyal voice of people that the Democratic Party has ever had," Thompson said. "And that's the African American vote."

What we're hearing: Senior Black lawmakers tell Axios that they won't settle for departments like Housing and Urban Development or Health and Human Services that have traditionally gone to minorities. They want top-tier and "nontraditional" posts.

  • Within the Congressional Black Caucus, there's a push to make Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio the Secretary of Agriculture.
  • Thompson also has made it clear he wants Biden to look at candidates with different backgrounds. "Everybody couldn't go to Yale and Harvard and Princeton," he said. "We don't want any artificial barriers."

Between the lines: Biden has promised to assemble a Cabinet with racial and gender diversity — and he's aggravated party progressives by not ruling out executives with Wall Street experience.

  • “If you take the left at their word, Mellody Hobson should not be considered because right now she is the president of a major asset management firm; that is wrong,” said Paul Thornell, a Black lobbyist at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas.

Progressives counter there are worthy Black candidates who didn't work on Wall Street.

  • "You don't have to choose between racial diversity and ideological purity," said Jeff Hauser, the founder of the Revolving Door Project.
  • He says Howard University economics professor William Spriggs and Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic are "two progressives who don't come from the financial services sector."

But, but, but: Not all Black lawmakers are prioritizing Black nominees so publicly. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the CBC's chair, tells Axios the caucus "is singularly focused on making sure Biden-Harris are elected on Nov. 3."

  • “The Biden-Harris transition team is not making any personnel decisions pre-election,” said Cameron French, Biden transition spokesperson.

Go deeper: Joe Biden could have the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history

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