By Kit Geary
On January 20, 2021, the United States will transfer the power of the presidency from one political party to the other. On this day Donald Trump is scheduled to exit the White House along with his cabinet. Over the next several weeks president-elect Joe Biden will be creating his own cabinet, a group of appointed officials to lead departments in the executive branch. The appointees are rolling in daily as the composition of America’s most diverse presidential cabinet comes together.
Who to choose who to choose
The truth is the thought process behind choosing a cabinet varies greatly for each president-elect. Trump’s 2016 appointments were familiar faces to the American public, whether they be former governors or some of the nation’s most prominent business moguls. “The Trump cabinet had more people well known to those who followed politics, they were prominent members of the Republican establishment,” said Paul Heintz of SevenDays VT, who was recently named one of the nation’s outstanding political reporters by the Washington Post. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was a face people knew as being a former opponent of Trump’s during the Republican primaries. More recently, in 2019 Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was appointed Secretary of Labor.
A president-elect’s cabinet appointees give insight into what the executive branch is going to look like. Who an elect chooses reflects on the values and ideologies they are going to take into office with them. We are learning more about Biden’s cabinet each day as we grow closer to that Jan. 20 transition day. What values and ideologies can we gather from his early picks?
“We see Biden’s priorities reflected not only in the personnel but in the offices themselves. There is a clear emphasis on expertise and experience. The choosing of cabinet members is a fascinating process because we learn a lot about the president and how they tend to govern,” said political writer and blogger Steve Benen, who is also the producer for The Rachel Maddow Show.
A new White House position that was created –Climate Envoy– was telling of Biden’s plans for the future. John Kerry was appointed to this position that will lead a national security council. This position is within the executive branch, it is not a cabinet position and does not require Senate confirmation. Kerry will be focusing on foreign policy as it relates to climate change. Gina McCarthy will be taking a similar role as a climate czar taking the role of Biden’s top domestic climate coordinator. Making a point to elevate positions such as these sheds light on the fact that for Biden climate change is a threat to national security and tackling it is a major priority.
In terms of filling the longstanding cabinet positions, Biden’s approach differs greatly from Trump’s. Trump had many of what Heintz refers to as “razzle-dazzle candidates” who were great on camera and who had impressive credentials and name recognition.
Biden’s cabinet does not hold as many recognizable shining stars, in fact, many people might not be familiar with these candidates at all. “Biden’s current appointments and suspected appointments, they know the job pretty well, even if the public doesn’t know them very well,” Heintz said. Many of these people held deputy positions in Obama’s administration. Rather than being in the spotlight, they were behind the scenes. They have experience and an understanding of what the job demands.
NPR accused Donald Trump of “breaking a trend towards diversity” with his 2016 cabinet picks and despite some changes made since 2016, the cabinet still mainly consists of white men. Biden’s on the other hand has representation from many demographics. While Trump’s cabinet resembled America’s elite, Biden’s represents the general American public.
“Biden is bringing different voices to the table, voices who usually don’t have a seat at the table,” said Michael Bosia, Professor of Political Science at St. Michael’s. Biden has committed to having half of his cabinet be women. Already the U.S. is seeing a few firsts including Janet Yellen who will be the first woman to serve as the Secretary of the Treasury for the first time in the treasury’s 231 year history and General Lloyd Austin who will be the first person of color to serve as the Secretary of Defense.
“There are certainly constituencies within the Democratic party, particularly communities of color, who have made it clear to the incoming president that they want to see a new administration reflect the diverse communities who supported him getting into office in the first place. The president-elect appears to be listening,” Benen said. One notable community is black women. 90 percent of whom voted for Biden when they showed up to the polls with historic numbers.
On Dec. 15 Biden appointed Pete Buttigieg to be the Secretary of Transportation. Buttigieg will be the first openly gay cabinet member. Buttigieg will be the first millennial added to Biden’s cabinet, this makes him one of the youngest cabinet members in history.
Some prominent Republicans are not pleased with Biden’s picks. Senator Marco Rubio leading the pack tweeting that Biden’s cabinet picks will be “polite and orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”
“You saw critics early on in this process of the Biden administration saying he is choosing from the same old Washington insiders who are well connected and may not bring independent views to their position,” Heintz said. Critics are coming at Biden not only from the opposing party but his own as well.
Progressive members are watching Biden closely as he has not appointed many progressive Democrats to be a part of his cabinet. Prominent progressives such as Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders rallied for Biden when he needed the support most. Anticipate that the members will feel a sense of betrayal if Biden does not gather some more left-leaning politicians to serve on his cabinet.