President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris continue to assemble a cabinet and senior leadership team that will mark the return of professionalism to the nation’s highest offices.
The teams are slated to be among the most diverse administrations in American history. Biden’s nomination of Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo for the role of Deputy Secretary of the Treasury fills both of those goals. If confirmed, Adeyemo will be the number two person in charge of America’s money.
Here are five things you should know about him.
1. His nomination is historic for both the United States and Nigeria
As reported by The New York Times, Adeyemo was born in Nigeria to Yoruba parents who brought him to live in the United States as a baby. If confirmed in his nomination, Adeyemo will be the first Black man to occupy the number two role at the Treasury and the highest-ranking Nigerian American ever to serve in the U.S. government.
Although he has spent most of his life in the U.S., many Nigerians still identify Adeyemo with his birth country, and Nigerian media has lauded his selection for the Treasury post.
“Nigeria congratulates Adeyemo on his nomination as U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary,” the Vanguard, one of Nigeria’s top newspapers, posted. “Meet the Nigerian who will serve in Joe Biden’s cabinet,” a headline on the Pulse news website read. “Nigeria’s Adewale Adeyemo will be a Great Asset to the US Department of Treasury,” the website Refined NG predicted.
2. He made a name for himself at Berkeley and Yale
The Adeyemo family made their home near Los Angeles, and Wally attended college at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was president of the Associated Students of the University of California. During his tenure as head of the Berkeley student body, he gave a speech at the university’s memorial service after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks calling for unity and healing. Adeyemo went on to earn a law degree from Yale. While at Yale Law School, he earned at least one student award, the John Fletcher Caskey Prize for Best Presentation of a case on final trial in the Thomas Swan Barristers’ Union.
3. He was a major voice in economic and foreign policy for President Obama
Adeyemo served many roles in President Barack Obama’s administration. He worked as deputy chief of staff for the Department of the Treasury, and later as chief of staff for Elizabeth Warren when she helped create and led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Later, as described by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, where he has served as a senior adviser, Adeyemo became the lead official in charge of crafting Obama’s international policy. In this capacity, he occupied the roles of deputy national security adviser and deputy director of the National Economic Council. Adeyemo also represented the Obama administration to the G7 and G20 international financial summits.
4. Adeyemo was a leading figure in the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal
One of Adeyemo’s biggest and most controversial achievements was helping to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal involving several countries on the Pacific Ocean, including the U.S. Canada, Japan, Australia and Malaysia. As described by the Council on Foreign Relations, “the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s strategic pivot to Asia.”
As it was originally negotiated, “the TPP was set to become the world’s largest free trade deal, covering 40 percent of the global economy.” However, the deal drew criticism from some members of both the Democratic and Republican parties who worried that it would move American jobs overseas, and President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal shortly after taking office. Proponents of the deal, meanwhile, argue that it would benefit the U.S. economy and counter the growing influence of China in Asia. As vice president, Biden was a supporter of the TPP, and experts believe he will want to rejoin the trade deal after taking office. The appointment of Adeyemo to such a high position within Biden’s economic team makes the likelihood of the U.S. joining the agreement significantly higher.
5. He’s been in charge of Barack Obama’s legacy
Since leaving the White House, Adeyemo was chosen to be president of the Barack Obama Foundation. The Obama foundation runs many projects on behalf of the former president, including overseeing the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center, Obama’s presidential library to be built in Chicago. He also administers programs such as the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and the Girls’ Opportunity Alliance, as well as the Obama Fellows and Obama Scholars programs.
Now, if confirmed to his new role, Adeyemo will help Obama’s former vice president craft his own economic legacy for the country.