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Biden Names BlackRock's Brian Deese As His Top Economic Aide

Brian Deese, seen here speaking to White House reporters in 2015, is President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead the National Economic Council.
Jacquelyn Martin
Brian Deese, seen here speaking to White House reporters in 2015, is President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead the National Economic Council.

President-elect Joe Biden has tapped former Obama aide Brian Deese as director of the National Economic Council, his top economic adviser at the White House.

Deese helped former President Barack Obama rescue the auto industry during the 2009 economic crisis and played a key role in negotiating the Paris climate accords.

But the pick raised the ire of some progressive groups even before it was made official Thursday because of Deese's work for BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager.

After his service in the Obama administration, Deese became the global head of sustainable investing at BlackRock. Progressive groups say the investment firm holds financial stakes in energy companies that contribute to climate change.

Deese is the second Biden pick to have ties to BlackRock. Wally Adeyemo, Biden's intended nominee for deputy treasury secretary, was chief of staff to the company's CEO.

The selection follows the unveiling Tuesday of six other members of Biden's core economic team, including Janet Yellen, the former Fed chair Biden aims to make the first female Treasury secretary in U.S. history.

Biden lauded Deese in a statement Thursday.

"Brian is among the most tested and accomplished public servants in the country — a trusted voice I can count on to help us end the ongoing economic crisis, build a better economy that deals everybody in, and take on the existential threat of climate change in a way that creates good-paying American jobs," Biden said.

In a separate video the transition team put out, the president-elect said of Deese, who's 42: "He'll be one of the youngest NEC directors in history, but he'll be the first who is a true expert on climate policy."

In the video, Deese emphasizes that he takes a "pragmatic and realistic" approach to issues and had focused on the "human stakes" and "good union jobs" when he worked on the auto bailout. He pledged to help the United States go further on climate than the commitments made in the Paris Agreement.

But according to groups such as the Revolving Door Project, which is pressuring Biden to keep lobbyists and others with corporate ties out of his administration, and the civil rights group Action Center on Race and the Economy, Deese has not done enough to curb climate change or stand up to corporate interests.

"BlackRock executives like Brian Deese are responsible for financing environmental devastation while profiteering from Black and Indigenous communities," Vasudha Desikan, political director of Action Center on Race and the Economy, said in a statement. "There is a deep bench of highly qualified economic policymakers of color who are dedicated public servants without compromised histories in the private sector."

But Deese has won praise from others who worked with him on business and environmental issues in the Obama White House.

Deese had yet to finish law school when he was tasked with managing the 2009 auto industry bailout and later rose to replace former White House chief of staff John Podesta as the White House's top climate official.

He was deputy director of both the National Economic Council and the Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration.

"I can tell you, having been there, that no one worked harder or more effectively to plan and execute the rescue of the American auto industry in the dark, early days of the Great Recession than Brian Deese. He was heroic," tweeted David Axelrod, a former senior strategist for Obama.

Deese's backers said his work at BlackRock focused on sustainable investing, and that he is known for his dedication to the environment.

One notable supporter is longtime climate activist Bill McKibben, who has been critical of BlackRock but said that Deese pushed BlackRock to change its policies.

Deese, whose National Economic Council role does not require Senate confirmation, worked on the Paris accords with former Secretary of State John Kerry, who's also returning to the White House. Kerry has been named Biden's special envoy for climate.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.