Pardon Chatter Picks Up

Hi Alan. Zients in some ways has a profile that seems almost tailor-made to worry progressives. He was on the board of Facebook for two years, has longtime ties to the health care industry, and as a member of Obama’s economic council was one of the more business-friendly architects of that administration’s response to the 2008 crash — a response that has been criticized by many on the left as not going far enough on behalf of consumers. Why might Biden, who appears to be staffing his own economic council with firmly pro-labor economists, see Zients’s perspective as the right one to coordinate the coronavirus response?

At first glance, Zients does appear to be everything that progressives would hate. But the fact is that he was seen as something of a star in the Obama administration and, despite his business background, had championed some policies that progressives do care about.

In many ways, though, coordinating the coronavirus response is a more logical fit. In this role, Zients will not be involved with economic policymaking, but he will be able to put his strong management and operational skills to use in dealing with a challenge that will require a broad understanding of both government and industry.

The Revolving Door Project, a watchdog group, compiled a 13-page dossier of sorts on Zients, as part of its effort to head off his selection. What are the group’s main concerns?

They were very concerned about his work at Facebook and his recent work as chief executive of Cranemere, an investment fund that buys companies. Facebook is a political pariah these days. One of the companies that Cranemere took a stake in on Zients’s watch had been accused of improper billing practices.

The group found it worrying that Zients, who is a multimillionaire, would be involved in such ventures — especially since he does not need the money. They were also put off by comments he has made over the years about hearing out business lobbyists and wanting to reduce the deficit.

In coordinating a national effort to contain the pandemic, Zients would be filling a role that has no precedent in the current administration. To what degree is it seen as important for the person in this position to enter the job with ties to the health care industry so that the official can swiftly set up shop, so to speak?

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