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Business groups react to Bernie Sanders being floated as potential Biden labor secretary

With presumptive President-elect Joe Biden prepping to enter the White House, business groups and unions are abuzz over the possibility of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) being tapped as labor secretary. This is causing anxiety on the business end of things and celebration on the union side of the issue.

Business groups are pushing for Sanders to be locked out of that title and are making their opposition clear. They are already lobbying Biden hard on the issue. But the move may never get off the ground If the Republicans maintain control of the Senate… Sanders taking the position would also leave Democrats with one less member of their caucus, at least temporarily and that is something the Democrats cannot afford. Sanders is unlikely to be confirmed by a Republican Senate.

“Naming such a polarizing choice would be a pretty big bait-and-switch for a president-elect who ran on bringing the country together to solve problems,” said Matt Haller, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs at the International Franchise Association.

“This election said many things, but it was not a mandate by voters to turn America into a country that rejects capitalism — just ask the House incumbents who were thrown out of office in purple districts for being unable to separate themselves from the lunatic fringe agenda,” he added.

Some in the Democrat Party itself are saying that they cannot afford to appoint figures viewed as socialists. That would include Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Warren has been floated as a candidate for treasury secretary in a Biden administration.

“The Biden administration has to be a lot more sensitive of where you come from if you’re looking at members of Congress,” Gerry Connolly, the representative for Virginia’s 11th congressional district said in an interview with Politico. “We cannot afford to put any seats in jeopardy.”

Aric Newhouse, senior vice president of policy and government relations at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), said the next administration and Congress should be focused more on bipartisanship.

“We think this is the time for middle ground, compromise, results-oriented policies and extremes on either side are not going to be conducive to getting things done in Washington. It’s not about individuals, it’s not about people, it’s not about politics, it’s about policy,” he said when asked about the prospect of Sanders leading the Labor Department.

Sanders said on Wednesday that he would accept a position in Biden’s Cabinet if one was offered.

“What’s true is I want to do everything I can to protect the working families of this country who are under tremendous duress right now. Whether that’s in the Senate, whether that’s in the Biden administration, who knows,” Sanders said in an interview with CNN. “Let’s see how that unfolds.”

“If I had a portfolio that allowed me to stand up and fight for working families, would I do it? Yes, I would,” Sanders said when asked if he would accept a job as labor secretary.

For now, the Biden team is declining to comment on the issue.

Earlier this year, Sanders said he would aim to double union membership if elected. A number of union leaders have said they would be thrilled to have Sanders lead the Labor Department.

“Bernie Sanders would be an amazing Labor secretary. He doesn’t just understand labor and advocate for working people, he grounds his life in the labor ideals of solidarity, equity, and leaving no one behind,” said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

“Bernie understands that you can’t have a strong democracy or a thriving economy without a strong labor movement and power for working people to get a fair share of the value our labor creates,” she added.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said Biden must nominate a labor secretary who will prioritize workers.

“No matter who takes on this role, whether it’s Bernie Sanders or someone else, workers need a leader who will fight for them,” said Kim Cordova, Vice President of UFCW International.

“They must prioritize increasing worker safety by investigating COVID-19 outbreak sites to hold employers accountable, mandating paid leave to end the ‘work while sick’ culture, investing in training and upskilling programs so that workers are prepared for the rise in automation, and making sure workers receive fair wages and benefits so they can support themselves and their families,” she added.

“It would not be surprising for the administration to choose a strongly pro-labor voice at the Department of Labor,” said David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation.

“But whoever is picked,” he said, “will need to be in charge of managing attempts to impose “radical solutions” on the workforce.”

Biden named his longtime aide, Ronald Klain, as his White House chief of staff in the first Cabinet appointment for his incoming administration. The transition team is expected to announce more Cabinet picks in the next few days.

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