Biden Considered Bernie Sanders to Helm Labor, But Democratic Control of Senate Came First

President-elect Joe Biden considered his one-time foe for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, to lead the U.S. Department of Labor in his administration but the razor-thin Democratic control of the U.S. Senate ultimately forced him to choose someone else.

"He agreed we couldn't take that chance," Biden told reporters Friday, announcing he had instead tapped Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for the post in his cabinet.

Sanders, an Independent from Vermont who has become an icon among the progressive ranks of the Democrats, backs a higher minimum wage and health care coverage for all Americans. With Democrats in the Senate majority after Georgia voted two Democrats into the chamber this week, Sanders is likely to get a plum committee chairmanship.

Sanders' office didn't immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

"I am confident he could have done a fantastic job," Biden said of considering Sanders for Labor. "I can think of no more passionate, devoted ally to working people in this country."

Biden said he's committed to continuing to include Sanders in labor discussions and on a "shared agenda for increasing worker power and to protect the dignity of work for all workers."

Among Biden's priorities for his first term: increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, pushing a paid family leave law, fostering unions and keeping trade policies worker-focused—all areas that would involve the Labor Department.

"This is one of the most important departments to me," Biden said.

Sanders, 79, came in second in the race to be the Democratic nominee to face President Donald Trump in the November election. He endorsed Biden, 78, last April after suspending his own campaign.

Democratic U.S. Senators-elect Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock won close races to unseat Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue on Tuesday, splitting the Senate 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. With Vice President Kamala Harris as the presiding officer of the Senate, Democrats will hold control.

If Sanders were to resign from his post, the Republican governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, would be able to appoint an interim senator until a special election could be held.

Biden's ultimate pick to lead the Labor Department, Walsh, 53, has been Boston's mayor since 2014.

"The word 'labor' means everything to me," Walsh told reporters Friday. "It's a time of great hardship, but working people are holding the country together right now."

He said the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the workload for working people.

"I look forward to working with this entire administration, shoulder-to-shoulder with American workers to build back our country better," Walsh said.

Bernie Biden
Then-Democratic presidential hopefuls former US vice president Joe Biden (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with a safe elbow bump before the start of the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. Now President-elect Biden has said he considered Sanders to be the Secretary of the Department of Labor in his incoming administration but both agreed that Democrat's slim control of the US Senate was a priority. Mandel NGAN / AFP/Getty