As the transition to the Joe Biden administration continues (less than one month till inauguration), so does the selection of Biden’s cabinet and cabinet-level officials, those key people who will help the 46th president shape and carry out his policies. Biden has already nominated the bulk of top positions so far, with notable exceptions such as Attorney General and Secretary of Labor still waiting to be picked.
A clear pattern has emerged in Biden’s decision-making process: He selects career officials and recognised experts whom he already trusts, including many former Obama-administration officials, without too many marquee names on the lineup. One possible reason his choices are so judicious is because he realises that no matter how experienced and non-scandalous they are, each candidate is still facing a polarised Senate-confirmation process, particularly if Republicans retain control of the chamber. (In the words of an anonymous operative speaking to New York magazine, many Republicans are “vindictive assholes” who are “out for blood” when it comes to Biden’s picks.)
Despite the overall “safety” of the choices, Biden’s team will hit some historic milestones: Janet Yellen as the first woman Treasury Secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin III as the first Black Defense Secretary, Pete Buttigieg as the first openly LGBTQ+ permanent Cabinet member, Deb Haaland as the first Native American Cabinet member, and Alejandro Mayorkas as the first Latinx Homeland Security Secretary.
Ahead, read more about who Biden has picked so far.
Antony Blinken: Secretary of State
Blinken is a career State Department official and diplomat who served as Deputy Secretary of State under President Barack Obama. He has promised to lead the U.S. in rebuilding its relationships with allies around the world after several years of Trump’s isolationist policies. Inheriting a depleted State Department — many senior officials have left or retired due to Trump’s hostility toward diplomacy — he is also expected to help rebuild its top ranks.
Janet Yellen: Secretary of the Treasury
Former chair of the Federal Reserve and top White House economist during the Clinton administration, Yellen will play a major role in leading the country out of the economic crisis. She has been praised by progressives and centrists alike. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, thought to be one of Biden’s top contenders for the position, called her an "outstanding choice" who has "stood up to Wall Street banks."
Gen. Lloyd Austin III: Secretary of Defense
Austin, a four-star retired Army general, is a longtime Pentagon figure who is known for leading the U.S. military effort in Iraq. Biden has praised Austin’s experience in drawing down 150,000 troops from Iraq. However, some members of Congress, strongly believing in civilian control of the military, have concerns about him because as someone who only recently retired from active-duty service, he needs a waiver to serve.
To Be Announced: Attorney General
Major contenders include Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who is a longtime friend of Biden’s; federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, whose nomination by Obama to the Supreme Court was thwarted by Mitch McConnell; and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — a slightly more controversial pick — has also been discussed as an option, although he has denied that he’s interested.
Deb Haaland: Secretary of the Interior
The nomination of the New Mexico congresswoman is hugely significant since Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the first Native American Cabinet member, would oversee 500 million acres of public land as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Haaland is also a vocal supporter of the Green New Deal and her nomination has been praised by progressives. “Rep. Deb Haaland’s appointment as Secretary of the Interior is a historic moment for every Native American and the Green New Deal movement,” Sunrise Movement Executive Director and co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement. “We know that in order to stop climate change, we must return leadership to the native tribes who cared for this land for centuries.”
Tom Vilsack: Secretary of Agriculture
The former Iowa governor was Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture for eight years, so this is quite an unsurprising, traditional pick.
To Be Announced: Secretary of Commerce
To Be Announced: Secretary of Labor
Xavier Becerra: Secretary of Health and Human Services
Becerra, the Attorney General of California and a former congressman, would face a big task if confirmed: tackling the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken a disproportionate toll on people of colour. As AG, Becerra has filed over a dozen lawsuits on healthcare access, including one in which California led 20 states and D.C. in an effort to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by Republicans.
Marcia Fudge: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
The Ohio congresswoman, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, initially campaigned to be Biden’s Agriculture Secretary, so this pick disappointed some of her allies, while some wonder if she’s the right fit for the HUD job, calling her selection "tokenism." However, as a veteran lawmaker and civil rights advocate poised to reverse some of HUD’s discriminatory policies under Trump, she has indicated that she is ready for the challenge.
Pete Buttigieg: Secretary of Transportation
The South Bend, IN, mayor has long been talked about as a contender for some type of position in the Biden administration, but his transportation résumé as a small-city mayor is rather thin. Additionally, his dicey history with the Black community in South Bend is of concern to many, and his centrism makes him far from a favourite pick for progressives — although he’s better than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was also thought to be in the running. Still, Biden has praised him, saying he will lead with “focus, decency, and a bold vision,” and supporters have cited his ambitious $1 trillion infrastructure plan as a former presidential candidate that focused on expanding broadband internet access through payment to state and local governments, plus the infrastructure projects he worked on as mayor, including revitalising (read: gentrifying) South Bend’s downtown.
Jennifer Granholm: Secretary of Energy
The former Michigan governor is a longtime alternative-energy proponent who helped Michigan through the 2008 recession by working with the Obama administration on the auto-industry bailout.
Miguel Cardona: Secretary of Education
Unlike Betsy DeVos, Cardona has over two decades of experience as a public-school educator. Also unlike Betsy DeVos, Cardona — Connecticut’s first Latinx Commissioner of Education — was brought up in public housing. Both of these facts are extremely encouraging, as he will be tasked with narrowing the achievement gap between affluent and poorer students that has gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s not lost on me, the significance of being the grandson of a tobacco farmer who came here for a better life, who despite having a second-grade education was able to raise his family and create that upward-mobility cycle,” Cardona told The Connecticut Mirror in 2019.
Denis McDonough: Secretary of Veterans Affairs
McDonough served as Deputy National Security Adviser and then Chief of Staff under Obama, so he has plenty of experience working closely with Biden. The pick has been criticised because the job has traditionally gone to a veteran, but Biden has emphasised McDonough’s experience with helping military families.
Alejandro Mayorkas: Secretary of Homeland Security
Mayorkas, who arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Cuba with his parents and sister, would be the first immigrant to hold the position if confirmed. Obama’s former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, he faces an uphill battle in unraveling the Trump administration’s harshest immigration policies, such as separating families.
Key Cabinet-Level Positions:
Katherine Tai: U.S. Trade Representative
Tai, a chief trade lawyer in the U.S. House, has extensive experience working with China and will play a key role in figuring out which of Trump’s tariffs to extend and rebuilding key trade relationships. If confirmed, she will be the first woman of colour in the position.
Avril Haines: Director of National Intelligence
Haines, who would be the first woman in this job, is the former Deputy Director of the CIA under Obama.
To Be Announced: Director of the CIA
Michael Regan: Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Regan has a long environmental résumé, having worked in the EPA during both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He now leads the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. If confirmed, he would be the first Black man to lead the EPA.
To Be Announced: Administrator of the Small Business Administration
Neera Tanden: Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Neera Tanden has a very long résumé in Democratic politics: She is the president and CEO of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, she is a former Hillary Clinton adviser, and she was an adviser to the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration. But she is also a divisive figure, already getting fierce pushback from Republicans and leftists alike. While she will be the first woman of colour and the first South Asian American in this position, she has a history of behaviour that progressives find troubling, like shutting down the publication ThinkProgress after its workers formed a union. “Everything toxic about the corporate Democratic party is embodied in Neera Tanden,” tweeted Briahna Joy Gray, the former press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield: UN Ambassador
Thomas-Greenfield has over 35 years of experience in the Foreign Service, and has worked as the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia. “Diplomacy is back,” she has said about the post-Trump transition.
Cecilia Rouse: Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
Rouse, the dean of the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs, has focused her work on the struggles of long-term unemployed people, which is key to the current moment. She would be the first woman of colour in this position.
John Kerry: Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
Kerry, the former Secretary of State, will take on this new cabinet-level position. He was a chief negotiator on the Paris Climate Agreement under Obama, and brings a wealth of experience working internationally on climate change.
Gina McCarthy: White House Climate Coordinator
McCarthy is the former Administrator of the EPA under Obama, and is known for creating regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which is key to Biden’s climate change policy.