U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has unveiled his first cabinet nominees, opting for seasoned officials with prior government experience and putting an emphasis on demographic diversity.
At an event in Delaware unveiling several foreign policy and national security picks Tuesday, Mr. Biden signalled an end to President Donald Trump’s isolationism.
“America is back – ready to lead the world, not retreat from it. Ready to confront our adversaries, not reject our allies,” he said. “And ready to stand up for our values.”
The president-elect’s nominees and appointees skew heavily toward people who know how the machinery of government operates, particularly those who worked with him under former president Barack Obama. His choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, for instance, spent more than two decades in government and has been advising Mr. Biden on foreign policy since 2002. His pick for United Nations ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was a diplomat for 35 years.
None of Mr. Biden’s picks so far is a household name. His penchant for low-key technocrats dovetails with the way Mr. Biden sold himself during the election campaign, as an old pro who can get the country back on track after Mr. Trump’s tumultuous reign. It’s also an effort to pre-empt Republican attacks, and speed Senate confirmation, by avoiding nominees about whom the public already has any preconceived notion.
Mr. Biden has promised to assemble an administration that “looks like America,” in contrast with the rich-elderly-white-man-dominated cabinet of Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden has nominated the first Hispanic person and first immigrant for the role of secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, and the first woman to be director of national intelligence, Avril Haines.
One dimension in which Mr. Biden has not shown much diversity is in the ideological realm. Despite pressure from the Democratic Party’s insurgent left, he has shied away from appointing any big-name progressives, sticking to centrists that will be easier for the Senate to confirm and hew to his own ideological instincts.
The president-elect is set to make more nominations and appointments in the coming weeks, as he prepares to take office on Jan. 20.
Secretary of State
Job #1: Figuring out how to deal with the U.S.’s adversaries, from increasingly ambitious China to nuclear-armed North Korea to nuclear-aspiring Iran to emboldened Russia.
Who is he: A long-time foreign policy adviser to Mr. Biden, the 58-year-old Mr. Blinken has extensive experience in government. He spent seven years in Bill Clinton’s White House as a national security council staffer, including a stint running bilateral relations with Canada. Starting in 2002, he worked for the Senate foreign relations committee, of which Mr. Biden was the chair. Mr. Blinken followed his boss into the Obama administration in 2009, working first as Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, and later as deputy secretary of state.
Secretary of Defense
Job #1: Coordinate the military’s efforts to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines. The new Pentagon chief will also have to decide how often to use American military power in a range of conflicts – most pressingly, whether to continue Mr. Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Who is he: Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, 67
A four-star general who retired in 2016 after more than 40 years with the military, Gen. Austin was the top military commander overseeing the Obama administration’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He became the first Black man to head the U.S. Central Command, responsible for overseeing military campaigns across the Middle East. If he’s confirmed, he will be the first African-American head of the Pentagon. But his nomination has sparked a debate over civilian command of the U.S. Military. Gen. Austin would need a Congressional waiver, since he has been out of active duty for less than seven years. Some progressive groups have also raised concerns about his connection to defense contractor Raytheon Technology, where he serves on the board of directors..
Job #1: Reversing Mr. Trump’s immigration crackdown. The President tried to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which allows some people brought to the country as children by unauthorized immigrants to stay; expanded the number of unauthorized immigrants targeted for deportation; and tightened rules on legal immigrants. Expect Mr. Mayorkas to rescind many of Mr. Trump’s policy orders as soon as he takes office.
Who is he: The Havana-born Mr. Mayorkas came to the U.S. as a young child with his refugee parents. Raised in Florida and California, he worked as a federal prosecutor and corporate lawyer before joining the Obama administration in 2009. He ran the country’s immigration system, then became deputy secretary of homeland security. His signature achievement was implementing DACA.
Job #1: Restoring constitutional norms. Outgoing Attorney-General Bill Barr was often accused of using his department to protect Mr. Trump politically, such as by playing down Robert Mueller’s report into Russian election interference and trying to drop the prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Expect Mr. Biden’s pick to try to reassert judicial independence.
The front-runner: Alabama Senator Doug Jones, recently defeated in his bid for re-election, spent several years as a federal prosecutor. He famously secured the convictions of two Klansmen who killed four children in a Birmingham church bombing. A political centrist, Mr. Jones would also be relatively easy for the Senate to confirm.
Other possible contenders: Sally Yates, a former deputy attorney-general fired by Mr. Trump for refusing to defend his ban on travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries, would be a higher-profile choice than Mr. Jones. But her defiance of Mr. Trump, and her role in exposing Mr. Flynn’s lying about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador, could doom her chances of confirmation if Mr. Biden has to rely on Republican Senate votes.
Job #1: Making services accessible to veterans. The VA runs a suite of programs for people who have served in the country’s military, including a government-owned health care system, but has faced persistent accusations that it is too hard for people to get in the door. In some places, there aren’t enough VA offices within easy driving distance. In others, people wait months or years for appointments.
Who is he: Denis McDonough, 51
A career political aide, Mr. McDonough was White House chief of staff for four years under Mr. Obama. Among other things, he helped manage improvements to the VA vein their 30s – Pete Buttigieg, Jason Kander and Patrick Murphy – who had all been in the running, instead offering the post to a middle-aged official who has never served in the military.
Ambassador to the UN
Job #1: Getting America back in the game. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield will have to deliver on Mr. Biden’s promise to rebuild international alliances and restore American leadership in the world after four years of Mr. Trump’s isolationism.
Who is she: A career diplomat, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield spent 35 years in the foreign service, with postings in seven countries. She also held high-ranking jobs at State department headquarters in Washington, culminating with a 2013-17 stint as assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Elbowed out of State during a purge of long-time diplomats early in the Trump administration, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield has spent most of the past four years as a consultant with Albright Stonebridge Group.
Director of National Intelligence
Job #1: Dealing with espionage and disinformation from China and Russia.
Who is she: A 51-year-old lawyer, Ms. Haines began her government career in the State department, before working on the staff of the Senate foreign relations committee under Mr. Biden. In the Obama administration, she served in the White House counsel’s office, on the national security committee and as deputy director of the CIA. Ms. Haines faced controversy for not disciplining CIA employees who hacked the computers of Senate staff working on a report about CIA torture; she was then involved in censoring parts of the report. Before her time in government, Ms. Haines lived an eclectic life: She studied judo in Tokyo and theoretical physics in Chicago, learned to fly a plane, worked as an auto mechanic and owned a hipster bookstore and café.
Health and Human Services Secretary
Job #1: Lead the federal response to the pandemic.
Who is he: Xavier Becerra, 62
As the Attorney-General of California, Mr. Becerra has sued the Trump administration more than 100 times over everything from environmental protections to immigrant rights. Earlier this year, he helped lead a coalition of 20 Democratic state governments and Washington D.C. in defending the Affordable Care Act against a Republican-led lawsuit to overturn the Obama-era law. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case next year.
While he lacks a background in health care, Mr. Becerra has deep political experience. He served nearly 25 years in the House of Representatives, representing a Los Angeles-area district, before he was chosen in 2017 to replace Kamala Harris as California’s Attorney-General.
The first health secretary of Latino heritage, Mr. Becerra will lead the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 280,000 people in the U.S. and hit Latino communities particularly hard. He is also expected to help build political support for Mr. Biden’s promised efforts to expand access to health care with a publicly-funded insurance option.
Job #1: Steer the U.S. economy through the pandemic.
Who is she: Janet Yellen, 74
Ms. Yellen made history as the first woman to be named Federal Reserve chair when she was appointed to lead the central bank in 2014. She is set to make history again as the first female treasury secretary. She brings an experienced hand to the department at a time when the U.S. is struggling with surging COVID-19 cases and a Congress deadlocked over a new pandemic relief package. As the Obama administration’s Federal Reserve chair, Ms. Yellen was instrumental in shepherding the U.S. economy through its recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. She is well-liked by both moderate and progressive Democrats. Republicans should find little to criticize about Ms. Yellen’s efforts to shrink the size of the Fed’s balance sheet. During the election campaign, she briefed the Biden campaign on economic issues and was a vocal proponent of extending more federal support to small businesses, unemployed workers and local governments.
Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council
Job #1: Figuring out how to make good on a wide-ranging agenda, from fighting systemic racism to expanding Obamacare and reforming the immigration system. Normally a relatively low-profile job, the head of the domestic policy council will likely take on expanded importance under Mr. Biden. To motive progressive voters, he made an ambitious number of policy promises during the campaign, and Ms. Rice will now have to implement them. And depending on the result of two Senate elections in Georgia next month, she may have to figure out how Mr. Biden can put his agenda in place without the help of Congress.
Who is she: Susan Rice, 56
A staffer in Bill Clinton’s White House and State department (and, before that, a McKinsey consultant in Toronto), Ms. Rice served as United Nations ambassador and national security advisor to Mr. Obama. Mr. Biden considered choosing her for either vice-president or secretary of state. Putting her in charge of domestic policy is something of a surprise, given her lengthy experience in foreign policy, but it could signal an effort by Mr. Biden to elevate the role’s importance by handing it to someone with Ms. Rice’s profile.
Presidential Envoy for Climate
Job #1: Restore the U.S. position on the world stage as a global leader on climate change issues.
Who is he: John Kerry, 76
Mr. Biden tapped a close friend and political heavy-hitter to fill the first cabinet-level position dedicated to tackling climate change. Mr. Kerry is a former Democratic presidential nominee, secretary of state and a long-time Massachusetts senator who helped lead the U.S. negotiations over the 2015 Paris climate agreement. As White House climate czar, he will also have a seat on the National Security Council. His nomination, which is not expected to require Senate approval, signals that Mr. Biden plans to place a high priority on environmental issues. Mr. Kerry will be tasked with returning the U.S. to the Paris accord, repairing relationships with traditional allies on environmental issues and persuading other countries to meet existing climate agreements. He is also likely to play a role in building political support for Mr. Biden’s climate agenda, including a promise to reach net-zero emissions in the U.S. by 2050.
Environmental Protection Agency administrator
Job #1: Implement Mr. Biden’s environmental agenda, including encouraging automakers to boost production of electric vehicles and expanding the number of clean-energy jobs.
The front-runner: Mary Nichols, 75. As chair of California’s Air Resources Board, Ms. Nichols is revered in environmental circles for winning concessions from automakers and battling the Trump administration’s attempts to relax environmental regulations. A former Clinton administration EPA official, she helped develop California’s carbon-trading program and won the state a reprieve from federal regulations that allows California to set its own auto-pollution and fuel-economy standards. Ms. Nichols scored a victory on Monday when General Motors said it would stop supporting the Trump administration’s efforts to revoke California’s auto emissions-setting powers.
Other potential contenders: Heather McTeer Toney, 44. The first female, African-American mayor of Greenville, Miss., Ms. Toney ran a regional office of the EPA during the Obama administration. Popular among progressives, she is now senior director at Moms Clean Air Force, a public-health advocacy group, where she has argued that communities of colour are disproportionately harmed by pollution.
Job #1: Implement Mr. Biden’s promises to expand unionized clean-energy jobs, while enforcing workplace safety during the pandemic.
The front-runner: Andy Levin, 60. A long-time union organizer from a well-known Michigan political family, Congressman Andy Levin sits on the House education and labor committee. He previously served in the Clinton administration’s Labor Department and ran Michigan’s state job-training program.
Other potential contenders: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, 53, is the former head of the city’s construction union. He has the backing of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, an influential union umbrella group. He is also a long-time friend of Mr. Biden. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and California Labor Secretary Julie Su are other potential picks.
Job #1: Repair relationships with U.S. trading partners, navigate the U.S.-China trade relationship, and manage the 2020 census.
The front-runner: Ursula Burns, 62. Several names have been floated for commerce secretary, a prominent role often reserved for corporate executives and wealthy political donors. One front-runner is former Xerox Holdings Corp. chief executive Ursula Burns, the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. She was vice-chair of Mr. Obama’s presidential export council and helped lead the administration’s program to promote jobs in science and technology. She also sits on the board of Uber, an important player in the gig economy.
Other potential contenders: Meg Whitman, 64. Commerce is one department where Mr. Biden may consider appointing a Republican: former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. She has political experience, having run for California governor in 2010 and advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. She spoke at the Democratic National Convention this year in support of Mr. Biden. Most recently, Ms. Whitman headed the video-streaming startup Quibi, which shut down in October. Other names on the list include: Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra, businesswoman Mellody Hobson, former PepsiCo Inc. CEO Indra Nooyi and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe.
Housing and Urban Development
Job #1: Expand affordable-housing programs to stave off a wave of pandemic-related evictions.
Who is she: Marcia Fudge, 68
HUD secretary is a lower-profile cabinet spot, responsible for anti-discrimination housing laws and providing low-income rent subsidies. But the job has taken on added prominence amid a pandemic that has forced many states to issue temporary moratoriums on evictions.
Ms. Fudge would be only the second Black woman to lead the federal housing department. The Congresswoman from Ohio, first elected in 2008, is a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and an ex-mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. She is known as an outspoken lawmaker who is willing to go against her own party. She publicly discussed challenging Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker in 2018. Ms. Fudge openly campaigned for the job of Mr. Biden’s Agriculture Secretary - which is set to go to former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack - telling Politico in November that Black candidates were often relegated to certain cabinet positions, like HUD secretary.
Job #1: Direct federal guidelines on reopening schools amid the pandemic and boost financial support for schools and student-debt relief payments to unemployed graduates.
The front-runner: Randi Weingarten, 62. Mr. Biden has promised to choose a public-school teacher as his education secretary. Pundits are speculating that he will pick a labour leader to spearhead his ambitious education agenda, which includes universal prekindergarten and tuition-free community college. Ms. Weingarten is the long-time head of the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers. A lawyer by trade, she taught for six years at a high school in Brooklyn. She has been an outspoken proponent of public-school education and increasing teacher pay. If chosen, she would be the first openly gay education secretary.
Other potential contenders: Lily Eskelsen Garcia, 65. She was the first Latina to head the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union. Ms. Eskelsen Garcia has vocally opposed the Trump administration pushing schools to reopen during the pandemic, telling CNN earlier this year that the Republican President should ”sit in a class of 39 sixth-graders and breathe that air without any preparation for how we’re going to bring our kids back safely.”
Job #1: Implement Mr. Biden’s plans to expand electric vehicle infrastructure; help airlines recover from COVID-19, including co-ordinating federal rules around air travel.
The front-runner: Eric Garcetti, 49. The Los Angeles mayor has been one of Mr. Biden’s most loyal supporters and is widely believed to have presidential ambitions of his own. He was among the first to endorse Mr. Biden’s presidential bid, served as his campaign co-chair and helped persuade Mr. Biden to choose California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Mr. Garcetti also chairs his city’s regional transportation authority, which is undergoing a massive rail expansion. He has pledged to move his city to 100-per-cent electric vehicles by 2050.
Other potential contenders: Rahm Emanuel, 60. A former Chicago mayor and long-time Democratic Party operative, Mr. Emanuel is actively campaigning for the job. He was Mr. Obama’s White House chief of staff and was an adviser to Mr. Clinton. But Mr. Emanuel is a controversial choice among progressives, who are still angry at his handling of the 2014 police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, which cost him a third term as mayor.
White House staff
Mr. Biden will populate his West Wing with old hands and close friends. His White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, was Mr. Biden’s chief of staff for part of his vice-presidency, and previously filled the same job for Al Gore. He was also Mr. Obama’s point-person on Ebola. Two other main men will be Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon, also former aides of Mr. Biden. Mr. Ricchetti, a long-time lobbyist, could draw flak from both the Democratic Party’s left and the Trump set as the personification of the Washington swamp – he was almost blackballed from a previous job in the Obama administration because of his long career as a fixer.
Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was a top aide to Hillary Clinton on both of her presidential campaigns and during her time as secretary of state. He was also Mr. Biden’s national security adviser for a time as vice-president, and played a major role negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.