Our breakfast with Biden’s top economic adviser

Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, sat down with reporters at a Monitor Breakfast to discuss semiconductors,  sanctions, and more.

Photo by Bryan Dozier/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on April 6, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Dear Reader,

I’ve been wanting to meet Brian Deese for years, ever since he burst onto the Washington scene as the wunderkind of the Obama White House. In 2009, at age 31, he helped restructure an American auto industry in crisis and later played a key role in negotiating the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Now, after a stretch at BlackRock investment firm, Mr. Deese is back in government as President Joe Biden’s top economic policy adviser, director of the National Economic Council (NEC). At a Monitor Breakfast with reporters Wednesday, he fielded questions on all manner of timely economic issues, from the new sanctions on Russia to the critical shortage of semiconductors in the United States to private-sector engagement on climate change.

When George Condon of National Journal asked him about voters’ dim view of President Biden’s handling of the economy – 40-year-high inflation and high gas prices amid strong job growth and low unemployment – he hinted at frustration.

“I’ll hesitate to provide commentary on my feelings,” Mr. Deese said, then asserted that the administration’s eyes are wide open.

“Our view is not, ‘The economy’s great; why isn’t anybody noticing?’” he said. “It’s that we need to recognize and build on the uniquely strong aspects of this economic recovery in addressing the clear, ongoing challenges, particularly around inflation and costs for families.”

My article on the breakfast can be found here. The audio of the session is available here.

I was curious how much Mr. Deese talks to his old boss, Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary and NEC director, who was a dissonant Democratic voice on inflation last year, and proved correct. All he would allow is, “I talk to Larry often.” Ditto the leaders at the Federal Reserve, which sets interest rates and operates separately from the White House.

“It’s actually the hardest part of the job,” Mr. Deese said – finding the time to keep in touch with current and former government officials, business leaders, labor leaders. 

Another fun fact about Mr. Deese is that he does not have a Ph.D. in economics. But he does have a law degree from Yale, completed in 2009 after he began working at the White House. I also can’t resist pointing out that we have much in common – both from suburban Boston, both graduates of Middlebury College. But I’m pretty sure he did better in econ class than I did.

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