Joe Biden promised that his presidency would mean a return to normalcy. His Cabinet picks help demonstrate how he plans to deliver.
The president-elect announced his final nominees this past week, completing a diverse team of two dozen people. He noted Friday that this will be the “first Cabinet ever” to reach gender parity and include a majority of people of colour, notable given earlier concerns that he was leaning largely on white men.
Some nominees have decades of experience in their respective agencies. Many held prominent roles in the Obama administration. Many have already begun meeting with interest groups and advocacy organizations, and his transition team has had what’s been described as an “open-door policy” toward advocacy groups for months.
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It’s a sharp contrast to President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, which was dominated largely by white men with little experience in Washington. Biden’s aides say that was one of the goals he set in filling out his Cabinet: to signal that his presidency means a return to competent, stable leadership government.
That’s especially important, Democrats say, as the pandemic and economic turmoil rage and the country navigates through the aftermath of last week’s violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“Joe Biden is taking office under the most challenging circumstances in a century,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama White House senior adviser. “There is no time for on the job training. He needs people who can hit the ground running because what happens in the first six months of his presidency will likely determine the trajectory of all four years.”
Biden’s Cabinet is unlikely to be in place when he assumes the presidency on Jan. 20. The Senate, which must confirm the nominees, hasn’t scheduled hearings for many of the picks. One exception is Lloyd Austin, Biden’s nominee for defence secretary, who is expected to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 19.
Some nominees faced early questions about their confirmation prospects, particularly Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden has angered Republicans with her outspoken criticism of them on Twitter.
But the confirmation process for many of the nominees may be smoother after Democrats picked up two Senate seats in Georgia last week, leaving the chamber evenly divided. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will be the tie-breaking vote, giving Democrats the edge.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said that the president-elect is “working in good faith with both parties in Congress toward swift confirmation because with so much at stake, with our national security on the line and lives and jobs being lost every day, our nation cannot afford to waste any time.”
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But many nominees may face unprecedented levels of scrutiny as they work to dig their departments out of both the erosion in public trust in government and an erosion of morale from within. Many department budgets and staff were gutted during the Trump administration.
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