Joe Biden is stepping up his attacks on the Trump administration’s handling of coronavirus stimulus funds — and as a result, the former vice president, whom Barack Obama once called the White House’s “sheriff” of taxpayer funds, is now under renewed scrutiny for his own oversight of federal dollars in the wake of the 2008 finacial crisis.
“The American people deserve answers,” Biden tweeted Sunday, concerning an accusation that “wealthy Trump donors” were receiving stimulus money. On Tuesday, Biden charged that the president was running “the most corrupt administration in modern American history.” The attacks are nothing new: Politico reported in May that Biden allies were instructed to accuse the Trump administration of “cronyism” in handling stimulus dollars.
Republicans are now responding in kind, in a form of riposte that has become familiar in recent weeks. When Biden recently hit the president for firing inspectors general, for example, or for referring to some “fine people” protesting against the removal of Confederate statues, his opponents quickly highlighted examples of the former vice president seemingly taking similar actions and saying similar things at various points in his career.
“A major theme of Joe Biden’s career has been family and friends making money off of his position, so it’s no surprise he let campaign donors take taxpayers for millions when he was supposedly overseeing the stimulus,” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokesman Joe Ascioti told Fox News.
In 2009, amid the financial crisis, President Obama told reporters: “To you, he’s Mr. Vice President, but around the White House we call him ‘the Sheriff’- because if you’re misusing taxpayer money, you’ll have to answer to him.”
By 2011, it emerged that some of Obama’s biggest political benefactors were executives whose companies depended on determinations by government regulators and loaners. “In some cases, grants, loans and contracts were given to companies that bundlers were heavily involved or invested in,” reporter Ben Smith wrote at the time, citing as an example the Marc Benioff company Salesforce.com, which received a huge windfall when the Obama administration moved nearly 1,000 government data centers to cloud storage. Benoiff had just maxed out his contributions to the then-president.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) applauds after presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas – RTX2YQ15
Separately, The New York Times has reported that the massive energy company Exelon “was chosen as one of only six electric utilities nationwide for the maximum $200 million stimulus grant from the Energy Department,” and landed a “commitment for up to $646 million allowing it, on extremely generous financial terms, to finance one of the world’s largest photovoltaic solar projects.”
White House records show that Exelon executives “were able to secure an unusually large number of meetings with top administration officials at key moments in the consideration of environmental regulations that have been drafted in a way that hurt Exelon’s competitors, but curb the high cost of compliance for Exelon and its industry allies,” the Times said in 2012. “Exelon’s top executives were early and frequent supporters of Mr. Obama as he rose from the Illinois State Senate to the White House.”
Specifically, the Times reported, Exelon board member John Rogers, a college classmate of Michelle Obama’s brother, was one of Obama’s “biggest campaign donation bundlers, having raised more than $500,000, and has co-hosted several fund-raisers, including one … that featured a performance by the Grammy-winning musician John Legend.”
Exelon was not the only energy company to obtain funds in questionable circumstances under the Obama administration. Perhaps the highest-profile misfire of taxpayer funding on Biden’s watch as de facto “sheriff” involved the green-energy darling and solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra, which received more than $500 million in stimulus money before unceremoniously shutting down and laying off more than 1,000 employees in August 2011. Obama advisors had warned that loaning money to the company was highly risky, according to multiple reports, and the Office of Management and Budget raised grave concerns about paying out $535 million.
In September 2009, speaking at Solyndra’s headquarters in Fremont, California, Biden explicitly endorsed the company, promising that Solyndra would jumpstart not just the local economy, but energize the technology sector nationally.
Oct. 31, 2011: An auction sign is shown at bankrupt Solyndra headquarters in Fremont, Calif., before Wednesday’s auction. Solyndra received a one half billion dollar loan guarantee from the government before filing for bankruptcy in Sept. 2011.
“The loan to Solyndra will allow you to build a new manufacturing facility and with it almost immediately generate 3,000 new well-paying construction jobs,” Biden said. “And once your facility opens, there will be about 1,000 permanent new jobs here at Solyndra and in the surrounding business community, and hundreds more to install your growing output of solar panels throughout the country.
“It’s important because these jobs are going to be permanent jobs,” he added. “These are the jobs of the future. These are the green jobs. These are jobs that won’t be exported. These are the jobs that are going to define the 21st century and the jobs — going to allow America to compete and to lead like we did in the 20th century.”
In a press release the same day, Biden said loan guarantees like the one granted to Solyndra were “exactly what the Recovery Act is all about.”
“A major theme of Joe Biden’s career has been family and friends making money off of his position …”
— RNC spokesperson Joe Ascioti
The Los Angeles Times later reported that Steve Spinner, who “helped monitor the Energy Department’s issuance of $25 billion in government loan guarantees to renewable energy projects, was one of Obama’s top fundraisers in 2008 and is raising money for the president’s 2012 reelection campaign.”
Though Spinner was ostensibly recused from the loan process for Solyndra, in part because his wife Allison worked for Solyndra’s law firm, The Washington Post reported that “throughout Solyndra’s loan process, Spinner worked hard to defend the company from criticisms inside the government, including questions from climate czar Carol Browner’s office.”
According to the Post, Spinner “pushed to get a final decision on approving the loan in August.” Spinner had signed an ethics agreement saying he wouldn’t participate in any Solyndra discussions.
Several other Solyndra biggest financial backers, including oil billionaire George Kaiser, raised more than $50,000 for Obama’s campaign. Kaiser’s “first recorded visit to the White House was March 12, 2009,” Bloomberg reported. “The next day he met with Jason Furman, a member of Obama’s National Economic Council. That month, the Energy Department awarded Solyndra the $535 million loan guarantee to commercialize its cylindrical solar panels.”
Some of the other companies that received generous financial arrangements under the Obama administration included The Westly Group (founded by a prolific Obama fundraiser), Evercore Partners (owned by Obama donor Roger Altman), the Lost Creek Wind Farm (founded by an Obama bundler), and NextFuels (also started by an Obama bundler).
FILE – This Dec. 13, 2019 file photo shows former President Barack Obama speaking at the Gathering of Rising Leaders in the Asia Pacific, organized by the Obama Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Obama will deliver a televised prime-time commencement address for the Class of 2020 during an hour-long event that will also feature LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai and Ben Platt, among others. ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC will simultaneously air the special May 16 at 8 p.m. Eastern, along with more than 20 other broadcast and digital streaming partners, according to the announcement Tuesday from organizers. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)
“Bundler Wade Randlett’s green energy startup NextFuels bundled up to half a million for the president’s reelection effort, while working with the federal government on fuel issues,” Politico reported in 2011. “The company also stood to gain from a green energy push by the Obama administration in 2010.”
Increasingly, Biden’s record has surfaced in the campaign — sometimes to his apparent surprise. Last month, Biden admitted that he didn’t “recall” the Obama administration’s conspicuous 2009 firing of a prominent inspector general, even as he sought to slam Trump for terminating the State Department’s internal watchdog amid a probe of whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered staffers do the dishes, walk the dog and obtain dry cleaning.
The awkward moment, which came during a Yahoo! News virtual town hall, highlighted a problem for the Biden campaign and others hammering away at Trump’s IG firings. While those decisions have been controversial enough to raise concerns from even the Republican side of the aisle, the Obama administration in which Biden served has its own complicated record of ousting and tangling with the government watchdogs.
And, recently resurfaced video clip shows Biden calling members of a Confederate heritage group “fine people” in 1993 — nearly mirroring Trump’s 2017 remarks that some protesters opposing the removal of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, Va., were “very fine people.”
Biden declared his 2020 presidential candidacy last year by charging that Trump, in those controversial comments made after white supremacists also joined those protests, had “assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.” Although Trump noted at the time that he was “not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally,” Democrats and some top Republicans criticized him for not speaking out more forcefully from the start.