In-of­fice agenda: Rise of San­ders stirs some cau­tious plan­ning.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JEFF STEIN jef­[email protected]­ Erica Werner con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Some al­lies of Sen. Bernie San­ders are be­gin­ning to map out how he might gov­ern and what his ad­min­is­tra­tion could look like if he wins the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — a once in­con­ceiv­able con­cept for many con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans and Democrats who re­gard his ideas as im­prac­ti­cal.

In­de­pen­dent ad­vis­ers in con­tact with San­ders’s cam­paign are in­for­mally spec­u­lat­ing about who could be tapped to lead key agen­cies such as the Trea­sury Depart­ment, what leg­is­la­tion would be pri­or­i­tized and which ex­ec­u­tive or­ders San­ders would ap­prove amid con­gres­sional re­sis­tance to his agenda.

San­ders (I-VT.), who won the New Hamp­shire Demo­cratic pri­mary Tues­day af­ter a top show­ing in Iowa last week, has pro­posed more than $50 tril­lion in fed­eral spend­ing and vast new govern­ment man­dates — in­clud­ing a na­tional rent-con­trol stan­dard and a ban on ex­port­ing crude oil — that have un­til re­cently been far out­side the Demo­cratic main­stream.

In­ter­views with more than a dozen in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal ad­vis­ers re­veal how his cam­paign team is squarely fo­cused on lock­ing up the Demo­cratic pri­mary, but his suc­cess has led oth­ers to try to gauge what might be next. Many of them spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the process re­mains so fluid and many de­ci­sions have not been made.

His in­ner cir­cle of ad­vis­ers, which in­cludes aides to former Sen­ate ma­jor­ity leader Harry M. Reid (D-nev.) and a num­ber of Washington out­siders, have not started de­sign­ing a po­ten­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion. They cau­tioned that such talk is pre­ma­ture and not oc­cur­ring in the cam­paign, which they stressed is fo­cused on win­ning the nom­i­na­tion and de­feat­ing Pres­i­dent Trump.

But San­ders’s mo­men­tum has led al­lies to de­bate ways he could put his ideas into ac­tion. And as he rises in na­tional polling, San­ders is ex­pected to face greater scru­tiny about how he could trans­late his sprawl­ing do­mes­tic pol­icy agenda into leg­isla­tive re­al­ity. His 2020 cam­paign has re­lied heav­ily on out­side ex­perts and ad­vo­cacy groups once con­fined to the fringes of Demo­cratic pol­i­tics, while also el­e­vat­ing to key po­si­tions those with closer ties to the party es­tab­lish­ment.

Some parts of San­ders’s pol­icy agenda re­main un­changed from 2016 — ad­vis­ers say Medi­care-for-all and a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage would prob­a­bly top his list of first pri­or­i­ties. He has ex­panded his 2016 agenda by adding poli­cies such as a Green New Deal, a hous­ing guar­an­tee for all Amer­i­cans, the elim­i­na­tion of all stu­dent debt held in the coun­try, and an ag­gres­sive wealth tax on mul­ti­mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires.

Crit­ics say it is un­clear whether San­ders’s team is up to the daunt­ing leg­isla­tive and pol­icy chal­lenges ahead, while sup­port­ers see a ma­jor as­set in their re­jec­tion of the tra­di­tional Demo­cratic chan­nels and pol­icy pri­or­i­ties.

San­ders has hired three former aides to Reid, who had a knack for hold­ing the line dur­ing pub­lic de­bates while also cut­ting deals with Repub­li­cans at op­por­tune times. Faiz Shakir, San­ders’s cam­paign man­ager, is seen as bring­ing a steady­ing ap­proach to the se­nior lead­er­ship of the cam­paign, while deputy cam­paign man­ager Ari Rabin-havt and na­tional pol­icy di­rec­tor Josh Orton were also brought in from “Team Reid.”

At the same time, San­ders has re­tained long­time ad­vis­ers in key roles. War­ren Gun­nels, who has served as an aide to San­ders for more than two decades, is viewed as one of the most cru­cial voices in stew­ard­ing his eco­nomic pol­icy agenda, in part be­cause of the loy­alty Gun­nels showed San­ders even when he was a lit­tle-known House back­bencher from Burling­ton, Vt. Jane San­ders, the se­na­tor’s wife, has also helped craft the 2020 cam­paign’s cli­mate and hous­ing poli­cies.

Bernie San­ders’s ad­vis­ers have clashed re­peat­edly with the ma­jor Demo­cratic think tanks that have tra­di­tion­ally driven Demo­cratic pol­i­cy­mak­ing. His pol­icy team, work­ing with na­tional po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor Analilia Me­jia, has in­stead con­sulted with environmen­tal and im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Sun­rise Move­ment and the Cen­ter for Pop­u­lar Democ­racy. It has also worked with la­bor-funded groups such as the Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute and the Democ­racy Col­lab­o­ra­tive, an in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion con­nected to left­ist Jeremy Cor­byn’s Labour Party in Bri­tain, and new think tanks such as the Peo­ple’s Pol­icy Project, which was founded in 2017 and is funded by small-dol­lar do­na­tions. These groups, re­garded as mar­ginal play­ers among Washington in­sid­ers, could gain new promi­nence should San­ders run the ta­ble in the elec­tion.

San­ders’s staff has also in­creas­ingly turned to a clutch of eco­nomic ad­vis­ers who have largely flown be­low the radar, such as Dar­rick Hamil­ton of Ohio State Univer­sity on eco­nomic and jobs pol­icy, Tara Raghu­veer of the Peo­ple’s Ac­tion net­work on hous­ing pol­icy, Sarah An­der­son of the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Stud­ies on busi­ness taxes and Carol Zabin of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley on San­ders’s Green New Deal pro­posal.

Other econ­o­mists who have pre­vi­ously had a hand in the San­ders cam­paign are also a source of spec­u­la­tion, by peo­ple who work with the cam­paign, about roles in the White House or the Trea­sury Depart­ment should he win the elec­tion. Some of the most fre­quently cited names for top eco­nomic posts in­clude Jef­frey Sachs of Columbia Univer­sity; Stephanie Kel­ton, a former San­ders aide who is now at Stony Brook Univer­sity; Robert Re­ich, a Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion la­bor sec­re­tary; and Joseph Stiglitz, a No­bel lau­re­ate also at Columbia.

Skep­tics say San­ders’s re­jec­tion of the typ­i­cal Demo­cratic poli­cies and in­sti­tu­tions may make it dif­fi­cult to en­act leg­is­la­tion, ar­gu­ing that he has not passed much leg­is­la­tion through Congress dur­ing his ap­prox­i­mately three decades there. (San­ders has pointed to his record of pass­ing bi­par­ti­san amend­ments through a Gop-led Congress, as well as his re­cent work with Repub­li­cans on the war in Ye­men.) Trump faced sim­i­lar ten­sions in his takeover of the White House and the Repub­li­can Party, with bit­ter bat­tles erupt­ing rou­tinely be­tween long-stand­ing GOP aides and Washington out­siders who dis­agreed about his di­rec­tion.

“You’re clearly go­ing to get peo­ple with less Washington ex­pe­ri­ence in a San­ders ad­min­is­tra­tion, which means they’ll bring a fresh eye to new ideas and prob­lems,” said Howard Gleck­man, a pol­icy ex­pert at the Tax Pol­icy Cen­ter, a non­par­ti­san think tank. But they “may also know less about how to get things done,” he said.

Cam­paign of­fi­cials de­fended cir­cum­vent­ing the tra­di­tional Demo­cratic think tanks, ar­gu­ing that they are con­flicted by cor­po­rate do­na­tions and mil­lion­aire donors from which San­ders is try­ing to break the party free.

“In this cam­paign, Bernie and our staff are build­ing pol­icy in an un­prece­dented, grass roots way: by lis­ten­ing di­rectly to the needs of peo­ple and gen­er­at­ing plans that will ac­tu­ally solve the prob­lems caused by toxic greed of pow­er­ful in­ter­ests,” Shakir, the cam­paign man­ager, said in a state­ment. “This cam­paign is not tak­ing its cues from the same Washington ap­pa­ra­tus that has de­vel­oped pol­icy that for too long has left mil­lions of work­ing peo­ple, young peo­ple, and peo­ple of color be­hind.”

Asked about San­ders on Tues­day, Sen­ate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (DCalif.) de­clined to crit­i­cize him. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the sec­ond-rank­ing Demo­crat in the Sen­ate, played down San­ders’s show­ing in Iowa and said “some as­pects of his pro­pos­als I just don’t think are prac­ti­cal.”

Al­though many Democrats and Repub­li­cans have for years con­sid­ered a San­ders pres­i­dency ex­tremely im­prob­a­ble, his suc­cess in Iowa and New Hamp­shire may give them pause. Some al­lies also point to how quickly Trump re­shaped the Repub­li­can Party on is­sues such as trade and im­mi­gra­tion — and won­der whether a sim­i­lar re­align­ment would be pos­si­ble in the Demo­cratic Party.

“If you were sit­ting there in 1931 or 1963, you could not have pre­dicted what FDR’S New Deal or LBJ’S Great So­ci­ety would be,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D- Calif.), San­ders’s cam­paign co-chair.


Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-VT.) speaks in Manchester, N.H., on Tues­day night. San­ders, who won the New Hamp­shire Demo­cratic pri­mary af­ter a top show­ing in Iowa, has pro­posed over $50 tril­lion in fed­eral spend­ing and vast new govern­ment man­dates.

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