Biden’s Cabinet: A basket of ignorables?
The president-elect’s picks have Democrats and Republicans saying it could be worse
With his early selections for key executive branch roles, President-elect Joe Biden is positioning himself as the United States’ juggler-in-chief, trying to please the progressive and moderate factions of his party while not alienating the GOP entirely.
“Biden needs people that are experienced, know how the government works, and don’t require much of a learning curve,” said Lindsay Chervinsky, a presidential historian at Iona College’s Institute for Thomas Paine Studies. She noted that some of Biden’s Cabinet nominees, like Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of homeland security, have drawn praise from progressive voices. But with future cabinet appointments, Biden seems more likely to placate moderate and centrist wings of the party. So far, he’s has announced the following top positions:
Mayorkas served as a U.S. attorney and worked as deputy secretary of homeland security in President Barack Obama’s administration. He led the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protected people brought to the country illegally as minors from being deported. He also helped address health scares such as the Ebola and Zika viruses. If confirmed, one of his first acts would likely be the reimplementation of DACA.
Ron Klain, Biden’s choice for White House chief of staff, clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Byron White and worked in both chambers of Congress. He moved to the White House, serving as Biden’s chief of staff during part of his vice presidency, then led the Obama administration’s Ebola response. This pick signals the incoming White House’s intent to make the COVID-19 pandemic a top priority.
Antony Blinken, tapped for secretary of state, is another alumni of Biden’s vice presidential staff who served as his national security adviser. But their history goes further back: When Biden was a senator, Blinken was his staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Blinken supports the United States rejoining the Iran nuclear deal and opposes Brexit, calling it a “total mess” in 2019.
Janet Yellen, slated for the role of treasury secretary, headed the Council of Economic Advisers during President Bill Clinton’s administration and was the first chairwoman of the Federal Reserve during the Obama years. Yellen has pushed for Congress to pass more COVID-19 relief. She is expected to continue Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s negotiations with Congress on a stimulus bill.
John Kerry, former secretary of state to Obama, helped put together the Paris climate accords and negotiated the Iran nuclear deal. Biden has asked Kerry to fill the role of climate envoy on the international stage.
Additionally, the president-elect has chosen former deputy national security adviser Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations, and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser. Thomas-Greenfield is one of the few crossovers from the Trump administration. She previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Liberia and as assistant secretary of state for African affairs under Trump.
“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Fellow GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri called the picks “a group of corporatists and war enthusiasts.” He singled out Blinken in particular: “He’s backed every endless war since the Iraq invasion. … He has no sense of what working Americans want or need.”
Right-leaning think tanks have also expressed skepticism. James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation criticized the Obama-repeat picks on the grounds that their earlier work hollowed out the military. “I don’t know how with the same team we can expect different results,” he said.
But for other Republicans, a run-of-the-mill Democrat is better than a far-left progressive. Biden has indicated he likely will not pull Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., out of the Senate for his Cabinet.
“I’m glad he’s resisting the far left on most of the picks to date,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told reporters.
While some senators might vote against confirming members of Biden’s Cabinet to score political points with conservative constituents, most of the administration's picks will likely win approval, even if it’s not enthusiastic.
“Since 1789, Congress has given presidents, especially first-term presidents, a lot of latitude to select their cabinets,” Chervinsky said. “Political differences are not usually grounds for rejection.”
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