President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has officially selected Brian Deese, who played a leading role in bailing out the automotive industry and negotiating the Paris climate agreement under President Barack Obama, to head the National Economic Council, his transition team said Thursday.
The appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, highlights Mr. Biden’s plans to use economic policy initiatives to drive climate policy. It also defies pre-emptive criticism from some environmental groups, who have targeted Mr. Deese for his work in recent years as the sustainability director for asset-management giant BlackRock.
Mr. Deese joins a slate of Biden appointees to top economic positions, announced earlier this week, that includes the nomination of Janet L. Yellen as Treasury secretary, Neera Tanden to be director of the Office of Management and Budget and Cecilia Rouse to head the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
In a statement, Mr. Biden hailed Mr. Deese as “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.”
Mr. Deese said in written statement that his immediate focus “will be on stemming this crisis, getting people back to work, and fighting to deliver the support American families desperately need — including rental and mortgage assistance, child care and paid leave, and small business relief.”
He also said that as the economy recovers, Mr. Biden’s economic team would work to fulfill the president-elect’s broader agenda for rebuilding infrastructure and supporting job creation and wage growth, “from restoring American industrial and manufacturing strength to embedding climate solutions in an ambitious jobs strategy.”
Mr. Deese, 42, has worked in the policy side of Democratic politics for more than a decade and a half, impressing supervisors and colleagues along the way. He wrote policy memos for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, working for a young economic policy director named Jason Furman, including one on the role of the minimum wage in helping working women, and worked for Hillary Clinton and then Mr. Obama on economic policy issues in the 2008 campaign.
He joined the Obama administration as a special assistant to the president based in the National Economic Council, where he was reunited with Mr. Furman, then a deputy. From a hallway desk outside the office of the council director, Mr. Deese helped craft the bailout of large American automakers. He roamed the West Wing shoeless, Mr. Furman recalled in an interview, absorbed conversations around him and took meticulous notes that turned into policy recommendations.
“Everything he sets his mind to gets done, gets done faster and better, than anyone else could have hoped for,” Mr. Furman said. “He knows about policy, is deeply committed and incredibly savvy about strategy and politics.”
In 2015 Mr. Deese took on the role of senior adviser to Mr. Obama on climate change and energy, where he helped drive sweeping regulations cutting emissions from the electricity sector and from vehicle tailpipes as the United States prepared to join the Paris agreement on global warming. President Trump has over the past four years repealed those regulations and dozens of others addressing climate change and withdrawn the United States from the Paris accords.
But Mr. Deese’s post-Obama administration role as global head of sustainable investing at the BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has drawn criticism from many environmental activists on the left.
Earlier this year Laurence D. Fink, the founder of the investment behemoth, announced that it would shift its investment policy to make climate and sustainability central to its goals. But green groups say the company has not gone far enough to abandon fossil fuels. One campaign led by progressive groups dubbed Mr. Deese as “chief greenwasher” of BlackRock and questioned his commitment to fighting climate change.
Others have come to his defense, notably Bill McKibben, the activist and co-founder of the environmental group 350.org. In a Twitter thread this week Mr. McKibben, a former Sunday school instructor, described having Mr. Deese’s future wife in his class when she was a child and years later performing their wedding. Mr. McKibben praised Mr. Deese’s work in the Obama administration as well as for BlackRock, and pushed back against criticisms.
“I know he cares a lot, and works hard on the issue,” Mr. McKibben wrote. “Since — because of pure chance — I know Brian to be both able and decent, and because I know he in fact does care about climate, it felt like I had to say something.”
Laurence Tubiana, who served as France’s top climate negotiator during the Paris agreement, said Mr. Deese helped bring countries together to sign the pact. Todd Stern, the State Department climate change envoy under Mr. Obama and a chief architect of the accords, called Mr. Deese “a dedicated proponent of ambitious climate action” who “gets the scale and speed of the net-zero transformation we need.”
Mr. Biden has pledged to deliver $2 trillion over the next four years to reduce planet-warming emissions and dramatically increase the amount of renewable energy used for electricity generation and transportation. He has made climate change a central part of his economic plan, as well as his White House structure.
Last month he named Mr. Kerry, the former secretary of state, to be a cabinet-level climate envoy who will also have a seat on the National Security Council, and said the post will be “matched” by a “high level” White House climate policy director, to be named this month.
Along with climate issues and broader attempts to encourage the economic recovery, Mr. Furman said he expected Mr. Deese to focus on issues of competition in the economy, including questions of growing market power among large American firms.
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