This article is an update to our ongoing efforts tracking the right-wing’s revolving door attacks on Biden. Read our previous installment here.
A lot has changed since we last updated this blog — Donald Trump was impeached for inciting an attack on the Capitol, confirmation hearings began for a new slate of Cabinet nominees, and Joe Biden was sworn into office as the 46th President of the United States.
What has not changed, however, is the ongoing campaign by right-wing politicians and media pundits (who have spent the last four years turning a blind eye to Trump’s corruption) to attack Biden as a corrupt tool of corporate America. With Biden officially assuming the presidency, the hypocritical GOP attacks on him and his administration for their ties to Big Tech have only intensified.
Conservative attacks on WestExec Advisors, the shadow lobbying firm co-founded by Biden Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken, have continued as those tied to the firm have faced Senate confirmation. While Blinken himself avoided questions about WestExec during his confirmation hearing last week, conservative media outlets like Fox and Breitbart have continued to report on WestExec and Blinken’s Big Tech clients, including Facebook, Uber, and LinkedIn.
Former WestExec principal Avril Haines, the newly-confirmed Director of National Intelligence, also faced stiff questioning from Republican Senator John Cornyn over her role at the firm. Haines was grilled by Cornyn on her role at WestExec, the nature of her consulting services, and her client list, making for a viral moment that the RNC was all too eager to share.
Right-wingers have also honed in on Biden’s other nominees and their industry connections. Breitbart has reported on the financial disclosures of Treasury nominee Janet Yellen, which revealed that she had “raked in millions from Wall Street firms and multinational corporations” like Citibank, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Salesforce. Breitbart also took issue with DHS Nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, whose work overseeing the 2018 Sprint-T-Mobile merger “left thousands of Americans laid off”.
Perhaps most curious was a tweet from Congressman Ken Buck, an anti-Big Tech crusader (and co-star of HBO’s 2020 documentary “The Swamp”), amplifying an American Prospect article about Google and Amazon advisor Renata Hesse being the leading contender to head the DOJ’s Antitrust Division. It should be noted that Ritika Robertson, Buck’s former Chief of Staff of five years (who also appears in the HBO documentary), revolved out of his office in July 2020 to become a top lobbyist for Facebook.
Charges of hypocrisy show no signs of slowing down the right-wing media and its Big Tech-focused attacks on Biden. Leading conservative outlets have made these stories a mainstay of their coverage, plastering headlines about donations from tech giants like Amazon and Google to the Biden campaign and inaugural committee on their front pages. Commentators like Charlie Kirk and Joe Concha understand (if cynically) the importance of personnel as policy, citing Biden’s hiring of tech executives as part of an alleged ongoing Silicon Valley plot to censor conservatives (Donald Trump’s permanent Twitter ban has only fueled this conspiracy theory). That these arguments can be advanced by blatant hypocrites like Senator Ted Cruz (who, as The Prospect noted, worked with Renata Hesse to defend Google from antitrust action) and not be discredited immediately is alarming.
While Biden has taken some encouraging steps (including a better-than-expected ethics pledge) since we published our last blog update, the right-wing’s revolving-door attacks remain a major potential political liability for his presidency. We reiterate our call for President Biden to adopt the remaining planks of our ethics pledge, and urge the president to go further in disclosing details of nominees’ corporate consulting work. We also encourage Biden’s nominees to release the full transcripts or recordings of any paid remarks or speeches they delivered to major corporations and trade groups, so they can respond to right-wing attacks before they parallel those levied against Hillary Clinton for her infamous Wall Street speeches. Most importantly, Biden should refrain from hiring prominent revolving door figures — like Renata Hesse, Juan Arteaga, or Michael Barr — in the first place.
While it is no doubt frustrating to have to respond to these bad-faith attacks from the right, Biden should listen to good-faith progressive reformers and commit to stronger transparency and government ethics efforts. Doing so would not just be a defensive move — it would also enable Biden to go on the offense and strengthen his political support in the electorate. Closing the revolving door, as polling from Data for Progress has found, is a political winner not just among Democrats, but also among Republican and independents. Voters, it turns out, like a government that works for them and isn’t riddled with conflicts of interest.
But the bottom line remains, as the 2016 election proved, that the cost of ignoring these attacks is far too great. As our Jeff Hauser put it: “If they don’t listen to the left on this, they’re going to get eaten up by the right on this.”