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By Kit Geary

Politics Editor

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.

Illustration by Kit Geary

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.

Diverse Decisions
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.

Closing Critiques
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.

Sarah Knickerbocker

Design Editor 

Religious freedom and the rights of the queer community have always had a tumultuous relationship in the United States. Now, with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the tension has built and left the LGBTQI+ community even more uneasy because of her conservative views.          

Barrett is a devout Catholic and taught at a school affiliated with the “People of Praise” group which strongly believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. While she has a right to religious freedom like anyone else, the fear is that she will bring her conservative, religious beliefs to the courtroom and allow her religious beliefs to influence decisions on individual rights for the LGBTQI+ community. In fact, Pope Francis warned about lay-led groups like People of Praise in 2014 saying that they were “usurping individual freedom” and delegating “important decisions about their lives to others.” 

“Love your neighbor doesn’t have exceptions,” said Oliver Hogan ‘22, who was raised in a Roman Catholic family and advocates for the queer community in the church. 

Due to the bipartisanship of the government, many citizens feel the need to pick a side with these issues leaving America heavily divided including in the Supreme Court. 

“I think that one of the hardest things for those of us in the LGBTQ community is that it doesn’t seem right, fair, or correct that we have to ask people for basic civil rights and liberties. nevertheless, it’s the society we live in,” said professor of political science, Daniel Simmons. 

The legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped pave the way for LGBTQI+ equality in the Supreme Court. But as soon as Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, President Trump and his administration worked quickly to fill her spot to benefit their political views. Despite being determined “qualified” by the New York City Bar, Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing raised significant concerns such as “maturity of judgment” especially when it came to issues that are considered “politically controversial” according to the NYC Bar. Ten days before the 2020 presidential election, and seven days before RBG’s funeral, Barrett was indeed confirmed. 

“She’s going to walk through all of the doors RGB opened for her and close them for everyone else,” said international relations and Spanish major, Micayla O’Connor ’22. Barrett’s confirmation shows how Republicans can be elected for their religious beliefs to promote a political agenda that they will call a religious imperative. Therefore, many students are worried about the rights of the LGBTQI+ community now that the Supreme Court has a 6-3 Republican majority. “It’s fine to be strictly religious, but don’t take your Catholic views and tell me how I should live my life based on your views,” said O’Connor. 

Once confirmed, Barrett was automatically put on the ongoing case, Fulton vs. Philadelphia which addresses the tension between religious freedoms and LGBTQ rights. The case concerns a Roman Catholic adoption agency in Philadelphia that claims that it can’t match foster children with same-sex households without violating its religious beliefs. 

This is contrary to what Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, has said when speaking on the topic. “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” he said in a documentary released last month. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

“The whole point of an adoption agency is to give those children a loving home,” Hogan said. “People use the Catholic church as an excuse for their own fear and hatred of others.” The addition of Barrett in the Supreme Court may tip the decision scales in favor of the adoption agency which would leave the LGBTQI+ community at risk for discrimination.  

“There are real problems with people using religion as a cloak for further discrimination and I think that’s something that rightly should be focused and called out,” Simmons said. 

The projected results 2020 presidential election gave many people hope for democracy and for the rights of queer people in the future. But, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is far from over. “It is soul-crushing to have to justify your own existence in what some people would consider a ‘political dispute.’ 

“Who we are should never be up for debate,” said political science professor, Michael Bosia. His advice?, “Be aware, and vote as if your life depends on it because somebody’s life does depend on it.” 

Illustration by Sarah Knickerbocker