By Aaron Shuchman
New York City, New York
In the aftermath of his victory in the 2020 election, President-elect Joe Biden has begun assembling his cabinet that will prepare to tackle intertwined economic and public health crises. Having campaigned on a “return to normalcy,” Biden has focused on nominating many officials and leaders from his time in the Obama administration, while also fulfilling another campaign pledge to nominate a cabinet that “represents the diversity of America” by nominating several racial minorities and appointing a high number of women as well. Biden’s cabinet fulfills several of his campaign promises, attempts to balance the political considerations of divided government and includes many qualified candidates––regardless of their ideological background.
Biden’s first cabinet selections to be announced included many officials that served under President Barack Obama in his administration or in Biden’s office during his eight years as vice president. In the White House, Biden’s choice for chief of staff, Ron Klain, served as Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president. His choice for National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, served as the National Security Advisor to then-Vice President Biden and worked in the Obama State Department. In the Treasury Department, nominee Janet Yellen was chosen by Obama to serve as the Chair of the Federal Reserve, and Biden’s choice for deputy secretary Adewale Adeyemo also served in the Obama administration and is now the president of the Obama Foundation. Biden’s choices for Secretary of State, Special Climate Envoy, UN Ambassador, Secretary of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence, among other choices, all served in the Obama administration as deputies of their new appointments or in other capacities related to the jobs for which they have now been nominated.
Biden has portrayed his cabinet choices as a “return to normalcy,” but this vague phrase implies that the rhetoric of the Obama administration and its staff were “normal.” Obama himself and a number of members of his administration in the years since his term ended have frequently demonstrated their elitist points of view about millions of their fellow Americans, looking down on religious or gun-owning Americans who live outside of major urban areas. Obama’s cabinet also pursued many policies that fostered the environment that led to President Donald Trump’s election, such as global trade deals that cost American jobs in heartland states. Biden’s cabinet nominees certainly have the experience required to serve in their respective roles, and I also believe that presidents should be entitled to a high level of deference in choosing their cabinet nominees. While the other party may not agree with the rhetoric or ideology of the nominees, it is important that a president can have a cabinet who he trusts to carry out his directives and policies and be in total lockstep with his agenda. Reassembling the Obama administration under Biden is a smart political move that demonstrates Biden’s desire to “return to normal” (whatever that may mean) and fulfills a key campaign promise. Steering clear of more progressive choices like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or Bernie Sanders (D-VT) is another wise choice, given the fervent opposition their nominations were likely to face in a likely Republican Senate.
Biden’s cabinet also fulfills his campaign promise of assembling a team that represents America’s diversity. In addition to the historic first of choosing a Black, South Asian woman to be his running mate in Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Biden’s picks thus far have demonstrated a clear commitment to diversity. He has nominated Yellen to be the first female Secretary of the Treasury and Haines to be the first female Director of National Intelligence. He has also chosen an all-female communications team, in addition to nominating Hispanic Americans Xavier Beccera and Alejandro Mayorkas to lead Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, respectively. He has also nominated Linda Thomas Greenfield and Lloyd Austin, who are both Black, to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and Secretary of Defense, respectively. Throughout his campaign, Biden faced questions over allegations of inappropriate treatment of women, as well as issues regarding his past comments and legislation on racial issues. He was accused of sexual harassment and assault by a former Senate staffer, and a number of other women claimed that Biden made them feel uncomfortable. He also faced questions regarding his work on the 1994 Crime Bill as well as his previous work with segregationist senators to oppose school busing in the 1970s. Biden’s cabinet choices are another smart move to demonstrate how he has evolved during his time in office, while also satisfying the progressive activists, who were largely responsible for his victory, who were pushing for a very diverse cabinet.
Biden’s cabinet choices are a group of qualified and skilled officials who should be able to garner bipartisan support during their confirmations. He also catered to activist pressure to choose a diverse slate of nominees in order to cover both moderate and progressive concerns. The choices that Biden made demonstrate a politically smart commitment to living up to a number of his core campaign promises of normalcy and diversity, and while I might not agree with a lot of the policies that his cabinet will implement over the next four years, Biden deserves broad deference in selecting qualified and capable candidates who will support his agenda.