21 Dec 2020

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Cabinet Positions in the Line of Succession

Secretary of State: Antony Blinken Pending Senate confirmation

Blinken, 58, began establishing his foreign policy bona fides in the ‘90s, when he first served in the Department of State under the Clinton administration. Since then, the New York native has worked extensively with Biden, both as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, during the Obama administration, as deputy secretary of state and as the vice president’s national security adviser. There is little daylight between Blinken and Biden’s policy views, which revolve around consensus-building, strong alliances and upholding commitments such as the Paris climate agreement. Blinken’s work in the private sector, and his ties to a Washington advisory firm and an investment fund, could raise questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Secretary of the Treasury: Janet Yellen Pending Senate confirmation

Yellen was the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, a position she held from 2014 to 2018. A highly experienced labor economist, the Brooklyn native has also led the White House Council of Economic Advisers and served as the Fed’s vice chair. In many ways, Yellen, 74, is a pragmatist, raising concerns about ballooning deficits while advocating for government support for businesses and workers during times of fiscal crisis. She’s an ardent champion of the banking regulations that were imposed after the 2008 financial meltdown, making her appealing to progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who called Yellen — who would be the first woman to run the Treasury Department — an “outstanding choice” and “one of the most successful Fed chairs ever.”

Secretary of Defense: Lloyd Austin Pending Senate confirmation

Austin is a four-star general and the only African American to have led the U.S Central Command. He oversaw the withdrawal of U.S combat forces in Iraq in 2011, a massive logistical undertaking that made Austin especially appealing to Biden, who noted that the next secretary will need to “quarterback” the operation to “help distribute the COVID-19 vaccines widely and fairly.” Austin, 67, maintains a reserved profile, and should he receive Senate approval, the Alabama native would be the first Black man to run the Pentagon. Critics note that, after retiring from the service in 2016, he served on the board of the defense contractor Raytheon Technologies, posing a potential conflict of interest down the line. Austin would also need a congressional waiver to serve as defense secretary, since the law mandates a seven-year waiting period between leaving the military and assuming such a role. General Jim Mattis received such a waiver during the Trump administration, which critics view as a worrisome trend.

Attorney General: To Be Announced

Secretary of the Interior: Deb Haaland Pending Senate confirmation

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people who describes herself as a “35th-generation New Mexican”, would be the first Native American cabinet official in U.S. history. The 60-year-old was previously (along with Sharice Davids) the first Native American woman to serve in Congress; both she and Davids were elected in 2018. In Congress, Haaland has built records on natural resources and Native affairs — two of the biggest responsibilities of the Department of the Interior, which oversees federal lands. While the Trump administration has pushed to expand resource extraction on public land, Biden has pledged to ban oil and gas drilling on federally-owned land and water. Haaland has expressed interest in instead expanding renewable energy production on those lands. She will also be responsible for managing the government’s relationship with federally-recognized tribes — and a history of broken promises and disrespect that continues to have real-world policy implications, most recently when the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that lands in eastern Oklahoma belonging to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation were still a federal reservation.

Secretary of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack Pending Senate confirmation

Vilsack is perhaps Biden’s most controversial nominee, though as secretary of agriculture he’d be reprising a role he held under President Obama. During his tenure, he oversaw an update to school nutrition standards and focused on programs designed to feed millions of struggling Americans. But civil rights advocates say Vilsack, 70, failed to address discimination against Black farmers, and pushed out a popular Black USDA employee after Andrew Breitbart, the now-deceased far-right provocateur, posted a selectively edited clip of a speech she gave at an NAACP event. Additionally, Vilsack has extensive ties to Big Agriculture. Over the last four years, he’s served as the top official of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a dairy trade nonprofit, at a salary of nearly a million dollars a year.

Secretary of Commerce: To Be Announced

Secretary of Labor: To Be Announced

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Xavier Becerra Pending Senate confirmation

Becerra is returning to Washington after 4 years as attorney general of California (replacing Kamala Harris), where he became a prominent Trump administration critic and sued the federal government over 100 times. The 62-year-old California native served in the House of Representatives for over 20 years, rising to become chair of the Democratic caucus and a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While Becerra played a key role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act while in the House, he lacks direct health-care experience, which concerns some of his critics. There are also questions about how the HHS Secretary will share coronavirus-response duties with the pandemic response team being assembled in Biden’s White House.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Marcia Fudge Pending Senate confirmation

Marcia Fudge publicly lobbied to be named Biden’s secretary of agriculture and described HUD as a token appointment for Black cabinet members. (Fudge lamented to Politico, “it’s always ‘we want to put the Black person in Labor or HUD.’”) But she was named to lead HUD after Rep. James Clyburn publicly criticized Biden for not naming enough Black leaders to cabinet positions. The 68-year-old Ohioan was elected to Congress in 2008 after serving as mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio. She’ll inherit a department that’s expected to restart an Obama-era push to track and discourage racial segregation in public housing, while dealing with a coronavirus-spurred eviction crisis.’

Secretary of Transportation: Pete Buttigieg Pending Senate confirmation

A rising star in the Democratic Party, Department of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg is widely seen as having solidified Biden’s nomination by suspending his own campaign and endorsing Biden just before Super Tuesday. The 38-year-old former mayor of his native South Bend, Indiana – popularly known as “Mayor Pete” – proved to be a prodigious fundraiser during the Democratic primaries, resonating with many voters drawn to the first openly gay major presidential candidate. Buttigieg pitched himself as a data-driven technocrat who solved municipal problems with technology and had a unique worldview shaped by his time as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. Critics pointed to his work for the global consultancy firm McKinsey and his apparent inability to connect with minority voters, an image compounded by his rocky relationship with Black residents in South Bend.

Secretary of Energy: Jennifer Granholm Pending Senate confirmation

Granholm, a native of Canada, was the governor of Michigan during the first half of the Obama administration, and worked closely with then-Vice President Biden to revitalize the auto industry. But she’s especially known for her vocal advocacy of alternate energy technologies. As governor, she was an avid proponent of electric vehicles, arguing that their development was an economic necessity for her state. In a recent op-ed for The Detroit News, Granholm, 61, said investment in clean energy “creates good jobs, builds resilience against future shocks and supports the middle class through this unprecedented time.”

Secretary of Education: To Be Announced

Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough Denis McDonough Pending Senate confirmation

Denis McDonough is neither an armed forces veteran nor an experienced hand at the Veterans Administration. His experience — like many top Biden picks — goes back to the Obama White House. The 51-year-old Minnesota native served as President Obama’s chief of staff from 2013 to 2017, and before that, he was the Deputy National Security Advisor to the 44th president. Before joining the Obama campaign in 2008, McDonough was a staffer for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Defenders argue that his executive branch experience will help him lead a sprawling department that’s often struggled to provide effective care to veterans, but veterans’ groups are concerned that a nonveteran secretary will have trouble building trust in the department.

Secretary of Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas

Mayorkas has extensive experience at the Department of Homeland Security; he was the department’s deputy secretary during Obama’s second term, after leading U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for legal immigration to the U.S. A Cuban immigrant, the 61-year-old started his federal career as a U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, where he won attention for a compassionate approach to a traditionally law-and-order job. Mayorkas is expected to face confirmation questions about his role in an Obama-era scandal in which he helped influential Democrats secure green cards for wealthy immigrants; Mayorkas and his defenders note that he subsequently changed the process to prevent abuse. He could also face opposition from immigration hawks for his role in the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.’

Cabinet-Rank Positions

Chief of Staff: Ron Klain No Senate confirmation required

Biden’s pick for his chief of staff, Ron Klain, is no stranger to the job — he’s just not yet done it for the president. After running judicial nominations in the Clinton White House, he became chief of staff to Attorney General Janet Reno, and then assumed the role for then Vice President Al Gore. In the 2000 campaign, he ran the Florida recount for Gore. After that failed, Klain returned to private practice and to a venture capital firm run by Steve Case, the founder of AOL. He did another turn in government in 2009, when Biden allowed him to reprise the chief of staff role, which he left in 2011. In 2014, President Obama tapped him to run the federal government’s response to Ebola. Now 59, he’s viewed as deeply centrist, but with enough experience and relationships in Washington to advance whatever agenda Biden adopts.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget: Neera Tanden Pending Senate confirmation

A fixture of establishment Democratic politics, Tanden, 50, got her start in Bill Clinton’s White House, and then signed on for Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign in 2000. In 2003, she played a key role in the founding of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, which has served as both a policy development shop and a landing pad for Democrats while they were out of power. In 2011, after a stint in Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, she succeeded John Podesta as the think tank’s president. Since then, she has gained a reputation as a sometimes-combative defender of center-left policies, firing off a steady stream of tweets against critics on both the right and the more progressive left.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: Michael Regan Pending Senate confirmation

Regan would be the first African American to lead the EPA, where he served as an air quality specialist during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Addressing environmental racism would be a key element of his work, along with prioritizing policies to combat climate change and support clean energy. Currently, Regan runs the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, a position he’s held since 2017. Over the last three years, Regan, 44, has championed science and boosted morale at his agency, two actions he’ll be tasked with repeating at the EPA, whose role as a regulator was severely diminished during the Trump administration. In January 2020, he negotiated an agreement with the utility Duke Energy involving the excavation of 76 million tons of submerged coal ash, the largest ever agreement of its kind.

Trade Representative: Katherine Tai Pending Senate confirmation

An unusual pick as someone who built her career as a staffer rather than as a politician or a business executive, Tai, 46, comes to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative after six years as a trade counsel to Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee. She served as the committee’s main emissary during hard-fought negotiations with the Trump administration over replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement. Democratic Senators and members of Congress advocated for Tai’s nomination, which would make her the first woman of color to lead the office. She is also a fluent Mandarin speaker, and before moving to Capitol Hill served for three years as head of USTR’s China enforcement office. The experience should serve her well as the Biden administration tries to pick up the pieces after an intense trade war that reverberated across the world and deeply disrupted American businesses.

Ambassador to the United Nations: Linda Thomas-Greenfield Pending Senate confirmation

A 35-year State Department veteran, Thomas-Greenfield, 68, was the ambassador to Liberia and rose to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs before being pushed out in 2017 as part of Trump’s purge of career foreign service officials. She then joined the Albright Stonebridge Group, leading the consulting firm’s Africa practice, before coming on board Biden’s transition team. As U.N. ambassador, the Louisiana native will be charged with repairing relationships frayed by years of antagonism from the Trump administration, starting by rejoining institutions like the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accords.

Administrator of the Small Business Administration: To Be Announced

Other Top Positions

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines Pending Senate confirmation

A onetime Baltimore bookstore owner, Avril Haines is President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to direct the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, making her the first woman to serve in that capacity if confirmed by the Senate. The Georgetown Law alumna, 51, first worked closely with then-Senator Biden in 2007, when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while she was detailed there from the State Department. She subsequently served as a deputy director of the CIA and as a deputy national security adviser at the White House under President Barack Obama. Critics have noted her work overseeing Obama-era drone strike programs as well as her oversight of a CIA review panel that found no agency employees should face discipline after accusations that they spied on Senate investigators. This year, she co-authored a piece in Foreign Policy cautioning against the politicization of intelligence, writing that if Americans can’t rely on the U.S. intelligence community to tell the truth “U.S. national security will suffer, perhaps catastrophically.”

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency: To Be Announced

Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission: To Be Announced

National Security Adviser: Jake Sullivan No Senate confirmation required

A key member of Biden’s “brain trust,” Jake Sullivan has been tapped to serve as the president’s national security adviser, where he’ll lead the National Security Council at the White House. The 44-year-old Yale-educated lawyer has advised Democratic power brokers on foreign policy for years: He was a top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department, negotiated with the Iranians for President Obama and advised Biden on national security when he was vice president. At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, Sullivan has written that U.S. foreign policy should be shaped with the middle class in mind, including in the negotiation of multinational trade agreements and pandemic planning. He has also advocated for hawkish foreign policy approaches that rely on American intervention, including arming Syrian rebels and soldiers in Ukraine.

Press Secretary: Jennifer Psaki No Senate confirmation required

Jennifer Psaki will serve as Biden’s press secretary, becoming the most visible public face of an all female communications team. Besides a brief stint at a New York-based public affairs company, the 42-year-old Connecticut native has largely worked as a party operative and communications specialist for Democratic candidates and elected officials. She did two stints in the Obama White House, serving from 2015 to 2017 as the White House communications director and earlier as a spokeswoman for then-Secretary of State John Kerry. She’s worked on campaigns for governors, served as a communications director for a congressman and was a regional spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.


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