In July, President Biden nominated Graham Steele for assistant secretary of the Treasury for financial institutions. Steele will be in front of the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow for his nomination hearing.
If confirmed, Steele would head the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Institutions (OFI). The OFI coordinates policy on financial regulation and also oversees federal initiatives on financial education and cybersecurity.
Steele is no moderate Democrat when it comes to financial issues. From 2010 to 2015, he worked for Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, whose Rust-Belt-moderate image doesn’t align with his radical policy views. (Brown is the current chair of the Senate Banking Committee.) Steele’s nomination earned a glowing endorsement from Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, whose idea of financial regulation often treats the rule of law as an afterthought when it conflicts with progressive policy goals.
In an op-ed from September 2019, Steele argued that “remaking the financial system does not need new laws” since Congress has delegated so much power to the executive branch. He wrote, “A new presidential administration needs to use that authority to go big and change the fundamental structure of Wall Street.” Some of his ideas in that piece include forced divestment of fossil fuels and pursuing an “economic and racial justice agenda” through federal consumer-protection agencies.
Steele also has plenty of old tweets that could get him in trouble. It’s clear that the modern Democratic Party just isn’t far left enough for him. He deleted a bunch of tweets criticizing now-President Biden from when he was a Warren supporter. In one he said, “This primary is fundamentally a choice about whether we want leaders who want to wield power, or if we want leaders who will defer to conservatives and wealthy elites,” suggesting he believes Biden is the latter. Another said that Biden “does not appear to have any actual plan for dealing with Wall Street.” During the spat between Democratic House leadership and “the Squad” in July 2019, Steele sided with the progressives, saying that House leadership was “attacking the progressive base that is the most vibrant part of their own party right now.” He also quote-tweeted a story about Representative Don Beyer (D., Va.) supporting the re-nomination of Jerome Powell as Fed chairman, saying that “it would be a huge missed opportunity to re-appoint a conservative white male as Fed chair.”
His opinion of Republicans is far lower. He referred to a Republican proposal on unemployment insurance as “absolutely villainous” in a tweet, going on to say that “a consistent theme of GOP bargaining since at least 2009 has been a willingness to create leverage by threatening to cause completely unjustified pain to millions of people.” Believing that one’s political opponents are consistently motivated by a desire to cause pain to other people is not a mark of level-headedness.
In his September 2019 op-ed, Steele repeated the maxim that “personnel is policy.” He’s right about that. Nominations like Steele’s have been part of a larger progressive strategy to fill Biden’s administration with appointees far to the left of most Democrats, let alone the American people. We may have avoided a President Elizabeth Warren, but filling the executive branch with her devotees is no better.