Biden embraces his one-time foe: Walmart

Source: Politico | December 3, 2021 | Hailey Fuchs

Not so long ago, it would have been unimaginable for a Democratic president to ally himself with the retail giant. But that’s what this one has done.

Not long before he joined the 2008 campaign trail, then-Sen. Joe Biden traveled to Iowa to deliver a blistering speech attacking the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart.

“My problem with Walmart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people,” he told the crowd that day.

Biden went on to enter the race and lose that primary. But 15 years later, he finds himself in the White House. And over the first year of his presidency, the retail giant he once lambasted has become a key ally of his administration.

“Thank you. You’ve been really — really cooperative,” he told Walmart CEO Doug McMillon on Monday, during a meeting with CEOs on problems with the supply chain and concerns heading into the holiday shopping season. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it.”

The sight of a Democratic president embracing Walmart would have sent shockwaves through the political ecosystem not too long ago. But times have changed since those days when Biden and others were holding out the company as a corporate force of evil. Over the past few years, Walmart has adopted internal policies that have softened its image among Democrats. It has also donated to Democratic lawmakers and their causes, right as the party was forging common ground with corporate America during the Trump years. In turn, the company has won an audience with top Democratic officials, including the president himself.

On Monday, Biden joked with the company’s CEO that he had “spent more time walking through the aisles of Walmart than I want to admit.” On Wednesday, he cited his administration’s collaboration with the company on issues related to the supply chain. And on two occasions, White House chief of staff Ron Klain has tweeted out McMillon’s remarks or praise as evidence of the administration’s success.

The administration has also promoted Walmart’s efforts to support Afghan refugees. Press secretary Jen Psaki noted that she ordered her Covid at-home tests from Walmart. And in selling the Build Back Better agenda, the White House has at least three times sent out Walmart’s lukewarm endorsement of the climate provisions before Congress, including those in the budget reconciliation and infrastructure bills.

Beyond the administration, the embrace of Walmart has been disorienting, especially for those in the labor community who fear the message it sends.

“It’s telling that in the White House statement touting its collaboration with CEOs to solve supply chain challenges, not one mention is made of the workers who drive the profits and keep the supply chains moving,” said Bianca Agustin, corporate accountability director at United for Respect, an advocacy group for Walmart and Amazon employees. “We need our elected officials to stand with the essential workers that are keeping our country running… We need regulations and laws in place to make McMillon, who leads the largest private workforce in the country, implement the changes that Walmart associates have been demanding.”

Walmart’s newfound status within Democratic political circles is, to a degree, a reflection of how the modern economy has shifted political considerations. Once laser-focused on how retail giants were impacting small businesses and exacerbating low wages, Congress has placed Amazon, Facebook, and other tech behemoths under its microscope in recent years.

But the friendly rapport with Democrats is also the result of Walmart’s attempt to use corporate initiatives to make inroads with the party, according to four people close to the company. A small fleet of lobbyists has been doing the company’s bidding in Washington, and at least the past two lead in-house lobbyists have both been Democrats.

“As the nation’s largest private employer and a bellwether for the U.S. economy, with deep roots in communities across the country, we’re used to working with policymakers from across the political spectrum,” said Brian Besanceney, Walmart senior vice president, chief communications officer, in a statement. “We’re glad policymakers view Walmart as part of the solution to national issues like climate change, pandemic response, and workforce development and training.”


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