Former Obama Press Secretary Joins Howard Schultz's Team Amid 2020 Speculation

Bill Burton / Getty Images
January 28, 2019

Bill Burton, who served as Barack Obama's press secretary during his first presidential campaign, is leaving his public affairs job to join the team of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is mulling a bid for president as an independent.

Washington Post reporter Robert Costa wrote on Twitter that Burton, the deputy press secretary during the first two years of Obama's first term and the co-founder of the Priorities USA Action super PAC, will be "joining Howard Schultz's team as a top aide and communications strategist."

Costa also received a statement from Burton's most recent employer, SKDKnickerbocker, a public affairs firm that "brings unparalleled strategic communications experience to Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, philanthropic organizations, labor unions, and political committees and candidates," according to their website.

Burton is married to the daughter of former Rep. Lois Capps (D., Calif.), who served in Congress from 1998 to 2017. He also worked as a communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and on former Sen. John Kerry's (D. Mass.) failed presidential campaign in 2004. Burton called Kerry "one of the great climate leaders of his generation" when he was secretary of state and previously called former Vice President Joe Biden "so awesome," but he apparently is not waiting to hear whether they will run for president.

Burton's decision to join Schultz's team is likely to cause some tension among alumni of the Obama administration and other Democratic operatives as they castigate Schultz, arguing his candidacy will be a "spoiler" and help Trump secure another four years in the White House. One of those alumni, Jon Lovett, who served as one of Obama's speechwriters, wrote an open letter to Schultz expressing those sentiments.

Since Schultz's appearance on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night, liberals have slammed the former Starbucks CEO for thinking about running as an independent instead of just joining the crowded Democratic primary. Neera Tanden, the president of the Center of American Progress, even threatened to organize a "boycott" against Starbucks if Schultz officially runs as an independent, calling it a "vanity project."

Burton penned a Sacramento Bee op-ed in the summer of 2016 against Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, warning that their candidacies could help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton by taking away votes from the latter. The op-ed may fuel criticism of his decision to join Schultz's team.

Some Democrats have already criticized Burton's decision.