Exclusive: New Biden economic hires point toward infrastructure, manufacturing emphasis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is adding transportation and manufacturing specialists to its senior ranks as President Joe Biden prepares to lobby for a U.S. infrastructure bill that was a centerpiece of his campaign.

FILE PHOTO: An automobile travels in a carpool lane along the highway system into Los Angeles, California, U.S. August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Biden’s National Economic Council (NEC) has hired Massachusetts Institute of Technology manufacturing and economic development researcher Elisabeth Reynolds as well as a former top administrator at the transit authority that serves the greater Boston area, Samantha Silverberg, according to a White House official who declined to be named ahead of an official announcement.

They join former top Consumer Financial Protection Bureau administrator Leandra English, who is now the NEC’s chief of staff.

All three women were recently hired by the White House’s economic policymaking arm to serve as special assistants to the president in their areas of expertise. Biden vowed to field a historically diverse team and has faced pressure from within his own ranks to live up to that promise in his administration’s early days.

The new additions also come as the White House has been laying the groundwork for its second major spending bill, which it plans to unveil if it can shepherd Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill through congress this month. The Senate could vote on the bill as soon as this week.

Meanwhile, on consumer protection issues, Biden has regularly turned to personnel like English whose views are aligned with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has advocated strict enforcement of the financial industry through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republican lawmakers largely regard the agency as too powerful and unaccountable.

As a presidential candidate, Biden pledged to invest $2 trillion building climate-resilient homes, wiring cities for broadband internet, encouraging the manufacturing of fuel-efficient cars and installing electric vehicle charging stations, among other projects.

He said the spending, paid for with tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, would create millions of jobs for an economy reeling from the novel coronavirus pandemic while also shoring up the country’s resilience to climate change.

Reynolds has studied topics including growing the domestic manufacturing base. Silverberg led the development of an $8 billion transit upgrade program at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Biden and his transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, are expected to meet on Thursday afternoon with a bipartisan group of House of Representatives legislators on infrastructure.

The White House has not specified how closely its legislative proposal will hew to the “Build Back Better” agenda Biden proposed as a candidate. Key decisions about the plan’s final cost and contents have not been finalized by his team, according to several people familiar with the plans.

Infrastructure spending has backing in both parties. But Biden’s tax and spending plans have also drawn bipartisan push back. Former President Donald Trump unsuccessfully pushed for a major infrastructure bill during his term, which ended in January.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Lincoln Feast.