Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign may have been a flop, but her outsized influence in the Biden administration continues if personnel is policy — particularly antitrust and economic policy.
This was clear in October when Biden tapped Warren’s then-chief of staff, Jon Donenberg, as deputy director at the National Economic Council. Donenberg replaced Bharat Ramamurti, another former protege of the Massachusetts Democrat, previously serving as her counsel for the Senate Banking Committee before going to the White House.
As early as 2016, Warren forged close ties to the Open Markets Institute, a left-leaning think tank that focuses on anti-monopoly policy, founded by Barry Lynn. The institute’s alumnus also gained prominent posts in the Biden administration.
The Open Markets Institute is primarily bankrolled by Democratic donor and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network Fund. With stakes in eBay and PayPal, Omidyar has backed Warren’s antitrust agenda to break up some of his Big Tech competitors, such as Amazon.
The Open Markets Institute has also gained significant funding from the Soros network-funded Foundation to Promote Open Society.
Others in Warren’s orbit who gained high-profile administration positions:
—Biden appointed Warren acolyte Rohit Chopra as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Chopra previously worked with Warren at the Treasury Department to establish the CFPB concept.
—Lina Khan, a supporter of Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign and former legal director for the Open Markets Institute, became the chair of the Federal Trade Commission.
—Jen Howard, who previously worked for the Warren-inspired CFPB, became Khan’s chief of staff for the FTC.
—Jonathan Kanter, an antitrust lawyer who consulted Warren in the past, was Biden’s appointee to run the Justice Department’s antitrust division.
—K. Sabeel Rahman, Biden’s former chief of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, was the president of the think tank Demos when Biden was elected. Warren’s daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, is a co-founder, former board chairman and current trustee emeritus of Demos. Rahman has since left the White House to teach at Cornell Law.
Warren boasted about the Biden appointees during February remarks at the Open Markets Institute’s “Renewing the Democratic Republic” event.
“Back in 2016, I set up a dinner in the conference room of my Senate office to talk about how we might breathe some life into antitrust enforcement,” Warren said. “Barry (Lynn) was at that dinner, along with a young law student who was working on a paper about Amazon’s antitrust issues and a practicing antitrust attorney who had started his career at the FTC. That law student was Lina Khan, and that antitrust attorney was Jonathan Kanter.”
Warren noted their higher status now.
“President Biden knocked it out of the park when he appointed Lina Khan as chair of the FTC and Jonathan Kanter as head of the Antitrust Division at DOJ — two champions in this fight against monopolies,” Warren said.
She extolled her relationship with each and mentioned Tim Wu, a former NEC adviser on technology and competition policy, and Ramamurti with jobs at the White House. (Wu has also since left the White House to teach law at Columbia.)
“Over the last two years, Lina and Jonathan, with an assist from Tim Wu and Bharat Ramamurti at the White House, have begun to turn our system from a puppet of the monopolists to a real cop on the beatenforcing competition laws,” Warren said. “Making sure we maintain a strong team on these issues, especially at the White House, lets the president demonstrate his ongoing commitment to competition policy.”
In March 2021, a piece in Mother Jones quoted Warren as saying: “I can do so much as a senator, but the people who’ve come from my office will be able to do so much more, far more.”
Ramamurti joined Warren’s staff as banking counsel in 2013.
After significant speculation, Warren opted against a 2016 race.
But, in 2015, Wikileaks showed that Warren sent the Hillary Clinton campaign a list of people she wanted the campaign team to consult on economic policy, which included Ramamurti. He joined the Clinton campaign, but after Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, he went to work for the Roosevelt Institute in March 2017.
In 2020, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer appointed Ramamurti to the Congressional Oversight Commission, overseeing the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
In the NEC No. 2 spot, Ramamurti oversaw competition policy, monitoring the implementation of executive orders and legislative and administrative efforts outside the order. These are tasks that Donenberg will take up.
In May 2018, Warren ally Chopra got an appointment to the Federal Trade Commission and hired Khan as an assistant. The FTC has an even number of commissioners, so then-President Donald Trump tapped someone to fill a Democratic opening. In October 2021, Biden appointed Chopra as head of the CFPB.