Trey Baker, Biden’s top aide on Black voters, talks lessons as he exits White House

By: John Hammontree
Published: Aug 30, 2022

Photo Description and Credit: Trey Baker, Biden's Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. (c/o Trey Baker)

Black voters delivered the 2020 election for President Joe Biden. During the Democratic Primary, his candidacy was flagging until South Carolina voters turned out in droves for the former Vice President. He racked up delegates across the South and never looked back.

At the center of that campaign strategy was Trey Baker, Biden’s National Director for African American Engagement. Baker grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, which he credits with instilling in him at a young age an understanding of how civil rights, power and politics intersect.

“I identified that so many of the oppressive things, so much of the institutional, systemic racism that you can see play itself out in Mississippi, in order to get to the heart of it, you have to know the laws and know how to deal with the rules, especially in order to change them,” Baker told Reckon in an interview.

While at Tougaloo College, Baker met Congressman Bennie Thompson. He eventually joined Thompson’s team as legislative counsel before becoming city manager of his hometown of Grenada. While there, he helped pass a two-cent sales tax to enable the construction of a sports complex, built a community safe room with a FEMA grant, implemented body cams for Grenada police officers, and built other infrastructure projects.

Baker said it was that local experience that helped drive Biden’s campaign strategy, treating every race like it was a mayor’s race. Baker joined the administration as Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, helping to implement many of the policies and promises Biden had made to Black voters during the campaign.

After two years in the administration, he’s leaving to enter private practice with Barnes & Thornburg, a national law firm.

He sat down with Reckon for an informal exit interview, reflecting on his time in the Biden Administration and assessing the president’s track record on topics like student loans, inflation, policing and voting rights. Despite Biden’s low approval ratings, Baker argues that “the president has had probably the most successful legislative agenda in a generation,” while acknowledging that there remains work to be done.

He also addressed what it’s been like to see his mentor, and fellow Mississippian, Rep. Bennie Thompson, overseeing the January 6 Committee hearings.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Reckon: Congressman Bennie Thompson has had a moment in the spotlight for the past couple of years with the January 6 committee. So tell me what it’s been like to see him in that role and to see somebody from Mississippi in that role.