WASHINGTON – Speaking at a think tank in Washington in the summer of 2016, Adewale Adeyemo, international economic adviser to President Barack Obama, warned of the dangers of protectionism, explained how a growing Chinese economy was good for the world and spoke about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. , a trade deal he helped negotiate that Democrats ultimately rejected.
Four years later, such rhetoric might seem disconnected from a Democratic Party that has grown even more hawkish towards China and increasingly suspicious of sprawling international trade deals. But that was not a concern for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who this week hired Mr. Adeyemo as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, solidifying his team with another staunch member of the Obama administration who will bring center-left economic ideas, deep experience and diversity at the highest ranks of Mr. Biden.
Like many of Mr. Biden’s hires so far, Mr. Adeyemo, who goes through Wally, brings a broad political perspective with a barrier-breaking background. Mr. Adeyemo would be part of a duo of story-makers at the Treasury: he would be the first black Member of the Treasury, serving with the first female secretary, Janet L. Yellen.
And like some of Mr Biden’s picks, Mr Adeyemo’s selection comes under scrutiny from the left over his work in the private sector. In 2017, after the Trump administration took office, Mr. Adeyemo went to work for BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, as senior advisor and acting chief of staff to Larry Fink, its director. general. He left last year to become president of the Obama Foundation, where he managed day-to-day operations and carried out his strategic plan.
If confirmed, Mr. Adeyemo will climb to second place in the Treasury since his humble beginnings. Born in Nigeria, Mr. Adeyemo immigrated with his parents to the United States when he was a baby and settled in Southern California, outside Los Angeles. Her father was a teacher, her mother was a nurse. Mr Adeyemo, 39, and his younger brother and sister grew up in one bedroom in a two bedroom apartment.
Mr. Adeyemo attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he was president of the students’ association, and went on to earn a law degree from Yale. His interest in politics percolating, he worked on the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, John Edwards and Mr. Obama.
Mr. Adeyemo joined the Treasury Department in 2009, where he worked as Deputy Executive Secretary to Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. A little over a year later, he was sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help set up the new agency. There he worked as chief of staff to Elizabeth Warren, now a senator from Massachusetts, who had the idea of an office of consumption and was chosen by Mr. Obama to oversee the creation of the agency.
The ability to switch between Mr Geithner and Ms Warren was an early sign of Mr Adeyemo’s skill at straddling the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party’s decision-making machine. During Mr Adeyemo’s confirmation hearing in 2015 to be Deputy Secretary of the Treasury for International Markets and Development, Ms Warren gave effusive praise.
“He remembers who he grew up with and he tries every day to make this country a better country,” said Ms. Warren, who has become one of the Democratic Party’s most prominent progressives. A spokeswoman said Ms Warren would support Mr Adeyemo’s appointment as deputy secretary.
Mr. Adeyemo eventually became Deputy Chief of Staff to the Treasury, under the leadership of Jacob J. Lew. In this role, he was immersed in many issues, including sanctions and international trade. During the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, Adeyemo focused on negotiating an agreement on monetary arrangements in the foreign exchange chapter of the agreement.
Mr. Lew recalled that Mr. Adeyemo had traveled the world, from Asia to Latin America, engaging in economic shuttle diplomacy to negotiate a deal that would create greater transparency and better enforcement of the exchange rate policy in the agreement.
“He developed an approach that has frankly stood the test of time, even though the TPP has not had a US stake,” Lew said in an interview. “He became the model for how currency issues were handled in subsequent trade agreements.”
In 2015, Mr. Obama recruited Mr. Adeyemo to the White House to be his international economic adviser to the National Security Council. He has represented the President at the Group of 20 and Group of 7 summits and has led the international economic policy agenda through government agencies.
Soft and deliberate, Mr. Adeyemo’s approach will offer a stark contrast to the Trump administration’s combative tone in economic diplomacy. At the 2016 event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Adeyemo described the importance of encouraging China to liberalize its markets by arguing that it was in its own economic interest – and in the interest of the United States.
“A growing Chinese economy is an economy in which American businesses can sell goods and services,” he said. “And a growing Chinese economy is something that will help spur global growth.”
This multilateral approach to dealing with China could be a complication for Mr. Adeyemo during his confirmation hearing, as Republicans have grown accustomed to Mr. Trump’s confrontational stance.
And Mr Adeyemo’s work at BlackRock will likely raise questions from some Democrats, as progressives have already expressed their displeasure.
Robert Kuttner, founder of The American Prospect, a progressive publication, warned this week that BlackRock could stand to gain if Mr Adeyemo gets the No.2 position in the Treasury, saying he could work to prevent tighter regulatory oversight of the asset manager. .
Matt Stoller, director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, a left-wing group that targets corporate power, suggested that BlackRock was actively working to implant officials who would make his offers into the federal government.
“BlackRock needs to be dismantled and regulated,” Mr. Stoller said. “BlackRock CEO Larry Fink knows this, so he has put Democrats hack on ice so they can step into the Biden administration and make sure that doesn’t happen.
A BlackRock spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
An aide to Biden’s transition team said Mr. Adeyemo, who had been hired to create BlackRock’s internal think tank, had no business responsibility or control over his investments or political decisions. The assistant said the experience also deepened Mr. Adeyemo’s understanding of financial markets and the role companies like BlackRock play in creating wealth for the middle class.
David S. Cohen, who served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence under the Obama administration, said Mr. Adeyemo’s familiarity with the inner workings of the Treasury and his background in domestic politics, international economics and national security would make it a strong partner for Ms. Yellen, a university economist and former central banker.
“In some ways, it’s a perfect addition to Yellen’s Treasury,” Mr. Cohen said.