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Progressives press Biden on cabinet picks

Progressives like Bernie Sanders say they "have not" seen Joe Biden respect their election-winning power so far and deserve more Cabinet and top-level picks in his burgeoning administration.

Why it matters: Many from the Democratic left actively campaigned for — or bit their tongues — while Biden worked to finish off Donald Trump in the general election. Now, they expect their payoff but have been confused and disappointed so far.

"The progressive movement deserves a number of seats — important seats — in the Biden administration. Have I seen that at this point? I have not," Sanders told me.

  • "I've told the Biden people: The progressive movement is 35-40% of the Democratic coalition. Without a lot of other enormously hard work on the part of grassroots activists and progressives, Joe would not have won the election," Sanders added.

Driving the news: There’s a lot of surprise among outside groups, strategists, Hill members and staffers at Tom Vilsack's return as Agriculture secretary.

  • Biden vowed to make his Cabinet "look like America" but picked a white guy who's already held the job for eight years over two qualified women, including one who's Black, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).
  • While Biden picked Fudge for HUD secretary, Rep. Barbara Lee told Axios she “absolutely” supported her for Agriculture.
  • “You’d have to ask the Biden folks their calculations and formula,” Lee (D-Calif.) told me.

The intrigue: Throughout the process, transition officials have allowed members of Congress to tag their people, policy and project requests as High, Medium, or Low priority.

  • A Democratic source familiar with the ongoing discussions said Congressional Black Caucus members were told, individually, their requests would be at least “Medium” priority.
  • That wasn't enough for Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and other CBC leaders pushing for Fudge to seal the deal.
  • "For every one of these Cabinet positions, he can pick 10 competent African Americans," Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said of Biden.

While a Black man, Lloyd Austin, was nominated to serve as secretary of Defense, it didn't satisfy progressives. They noted the recent Army retiree needs a waiver to head the Pentagon — and they're concerned it won't be approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

  • Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted partial praise but hinted at challenging him during his eventual hearing.
  • "I look forward to his testifying," Khanna wrote.

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