Mar 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden's secret governing plan

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Animation: Nathan Goodell/The Strangeworks

This is a new "Axios on HBO" column on the reality behind the curtain of the powerful, by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen.

Joe Biden confidants are privately discussing potential leaders and Cabinet members for his White House, including the need to name a woman or African American — perhaps both — as vice president, top sources tell "Axios on HBO." 

Why it matters: Biden advisers describe a Return to Normal plan — a reversal of President Trump's unorthodox, improvisational style. Biden wants known, trusted people around him — many from the Obama years.

Several high-profile possibilities:

  • John Kerry would love to take a new Cabinet position devoted to climate change, or might even accept a curtain call to return as secretary of state.
  • Susan Rice, formerly President Obama's national security adviser, is another option for State.
  • Mike Bloomberg, who swiftly endorsed Biden after the former mayor's campaign collapsed, would be a top possibility to head the World Bank.
  • Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general under Obama who stood up to Trump and was fired, would be a leading contender for attorney general.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Treasury secretary could help unite the party.
  • Jamie Dimon — chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and mentioned over the years as a potential presidential candidate — would also be considered for Treasury.
  • Anne Finucane, vice chairman of Bank of America, is another possibility for Treasury.

Biden advisers expect Pete Buttigieg to get a prominent slot after his swift endorsement of Biden — perhaps as ambassador to the UN, or as U.S. trade representative.

  • Both would help credential Buttigieg for a future national campaign.

Behind the curtain: Campaign officials say the name game isn't where Biden's head is — he knows he has major primary and general-election fights ahead.

  • Officials point out they don't yet have a transition — and haven't run a process that would surface new talent, like Dr. Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize physicist who was Obama's first secretary of energy.

But it's a sign of the sudden optimism around his candidacy that some in his circle of trust are starting to think down the road, starting with the V.P. pick:

  • Some Biden advisers hope he could overcome hard feelings from the Obama years and pick Warren for V.P. to excite party progressives.
  • Also high on the list of potential Biden picks for #2 are several African Americans: Sen. Kamala Harris (first on many lists) and Sen. Cory Booker, both of whom ended their nomination fights before the voting began ... former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who ended his presidential campaign after New Hampshire ... and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who electrifies crowds.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar is in the mix, too. 

Others who could bring diversity and relative youth to the ticket include Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Rep. Val Demings of Florida, who got high marks as a House impeachment manager.

  • One adviser told us when we asked who the V.P. pick would be: "Whoever Jim Clyburn wants it to be."
  • Indeed, Biden feels Clyburn — the South Carolinian who is the highest ranking African American in Congress — helped raise him from the dead with his endorsement. Black voters on Super Tuesday sealed Biden's political salvation. 

Another swath of likely picks are comfort food — longtime loyalists who are integral to the campaign:

  • Tom Donilon, national security adviser under Obama, would be considered for CIA director, director of national intelligence, or secretary of state.
  • Tony Blinken, deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under Obama, could go to State or become national security adviser.
  • The chief of staff would likely be Ron Klain, who held that job for him when he was veep.
  • Steve Ricchetti could be counselor, along with Mike Donilon, Biden's longtime political guru.
  • Anita Dunn, who helped turn around the campaign and bring in more money, also might go inside.
  • Ditto Ambassador Cathy Russell, a top State Department official for Obama who earlier was chief of staff to Dr. Jill Biden.
  • Ted Kaufman, former senator from Delaware, has been in Biden's inner circle forever. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware also might get a big job.

The sources see Harris as a promising choice for attorney general if she's not on the ticket.

  • Michèle Flournoy, an Obama undersecretary of defense, would be the favorite to run Biden's Pentagon.
  • Morgan Stanley exec Tom Nides could get secretary of commerce, trade rep or some other top post.

The bottom line: Biden, a throw-back institutionalist, relishes an emphasis on governing, norms and restoring alliances. 

  • That includes respect for experts, and for the art and science of governing.
  • This evolving plan is all in Biden's comfort zone — all meant to send a public signal of stability.

Go deeper

James Clyburn wants Joe Biden to pick an African American woman for vice president

Harris: Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images. Clyburn: Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images. Abrams: Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter.

Rep. James Clyburn has a list of African American women who are qualified to be vice president, and he told "Axios on HBO" in an interview that there's a "much deeper bench than people realize."

The big picture: Clyburn is widely credited with saving Biden's campaign following his endorsement in the South Carolina Democratic primaries.

Biden on lack of Obama endorsement: "I have to earn this on my own"

Joe Biden said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that he doesn't believe President Obama's lack of endorsement hurt his campaign, adding: "I don't think it is time. He and I talked about this from the very beginning. I have to earn this on my own."

Why it matters: Some pundits have speculated that the days after Biden's landslide South Carolina victory would be the perfect opportunity for Obama to endorse, giving his vice president a much-needed boost ahead of Super Tuesday.

Biden racks up endorsements as Super Tuesday kicks off

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has earned endorsements from a string of prominent Democrats in the hours leading up to Super Tuesday, where wins in huge delegate states like California and Texas could drastically change the trajectory of the 2020 race.

Driving the news: Two former Obama administration officials — former UN Ambassador Samantha Power and former White House chief of staff Denis McDonough — endorsed Biden on Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy