President-elect Joe Biden seeks diverse Cabinet to ‘look like America’ in leading federal departments

Bart Jansen
 
| USA TODAY

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Joe Biden calls for unity in first address as President-elect

In first address since securing the presidency, Joe Biden called for unity between all Americans.

President-elect Joe Biden campaigned to have a government as diverse as America. After 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president, Biden now has an opportunity to tap a broad range of government officials and policy experts to lead the federal departments.

Biden’s campaign declined to discuss prospects for Cabinet posts, saying those decisions would wait until after the election. But speculation during the final weeks of the campaign ranged from former officials from President Barack Obama’s administration to former rivals in the Democratic primaries and even Republicans.

Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect, told supporters at an Oct. 17 fundraiser that Biden’s Cabinet would reflect the country, with women and people of color in leadership positions.

In a June 10 column in USA TODAY, Biden said: “Across the board – from our classrooms to our courtrooms to the president’s Cabinet – we have to make sure that our leadership and our institutions actually look like America.” 

In his first speech as president-elect, Biden echoed that message: “I said from the outset I wanted a campaign that represented America, and I think we did that. Now that’s what I want the administration to look like.”

What he said: Read what Joe Biden said in his first speech as president-elect

Part of that diversity could extend to party. Obama’s Cabinet included Republicans such as Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel at Defense and Ray LaHood at Transportation.

Republican speakers at the Democratic National Convention included former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former New York Rep. Susan Molinari and Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and Hewlett-Packard, now at Quibi.

“I’m running as a proud Democrat – but I will govern as an American president – to unite and to heal,” Biden told supporters in Tampa on Oct. 28, in phrasing repeated often during the campaign.

Broad support: The prominent Republicans who supported Biden

But progressives are skeptical about inviting Republicans into the Cabinet. Alex Morgan, executive director of the Progressive Turnout Project, said that it “might depend on the person but that activists want credible advocates for issues such as health care, climate and justice.”

“While I applaud those folks for doing the right thing, that doesn’t mean they deserve a spot in a Democratic administration,” Morgan said.

Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said getting Biden’s Cabinet in place during the first 100 days of his administration would be a top priority for his team. But if Republicans retain control of the Senate – the balance depends on undecided races in Georgia and elsewhere – Ornstein said Biden would be unable to place progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont in his Cabinet.

“None of that is going to happen,” Ornstein said Thursday during an AEI panel on what to expect in the next administration. “I think under these circumstances you’re not likely to see any Democratic senators being chosen for the Cabinet.”

Some candidates have already demurred. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a former superintendent of Denver public schools, told The Denver Post he wasn’t interested in becoming education secretary. 

Axios reported Oct. 11 that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo,  the secretary of housing and urban development for President Bill Clinton, was being considered for a Cabinet post. But he rejected the possibility the next day.

“I have no interest in going to Washington,” Cuomo told NBC’s “Today.”

Here are some of the choices Biden faces in filling his Cabinet:

Justice Department 

• Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a white member of the Senate Judiciary Committee where she has been harshly critical of Attorney General William Barr. She dropped her presidential campaign after the South Carolina primary and endorsed Biden.

Sally Yates, a white former deputy attorney general in the Obama administration, served briefly during the Trump administration transition as acting attorney general before she was fired for refusing to support the president’s ban on immigration from Muslim countries. In subsequent testimony before a Senate committee, Yates recounted how former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn opened himself to possible blackmail when he lied about his pre-inaugural contacts with a Russian ambassador.

Stacey Abrams, a Black former member of the Georgia Legislature who was among those considered as Biden’s running mate. Abrams has been a fierce advocate for voting rights after running an unsuccessful but high-profile campaign for governor of Georgia, a state that was surprisingly competitive for Biden.

• Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a Black member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and presidential candidate, was a key sponsor of sweeping criminal justice legislation aimed at cutting mandatory minimum sentences and reducing the federal prison population.

• Preet Bharara, who was born in India, a former chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan’s Southern District of New York, was fired by Trump after the then-newly elected president had asked him to remain on the job. Bharara subsequently described a series of contacts with Trump before his firing that he said threatened the Justice Department’s independence from the White House.

Defense Department

• Michele Flournoy, a white former undersecretary of defense in the Obama administration beneath Gates and Leon Panetta. She is co-founder and managing partner of WestExec Advisors and co-founded the think tank Center for a New American Security, where she serves on the board.

Jeh Johnson, a Black lawyer who served as secretary of homeland security in the Obama administration and previously as general counsel at the Pentagon.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a member of the Armed Services Committee and an Army National Guard veteran who lost her legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. Duckworth, whose mother is from Thailand, was assistant secretary of veterans affairs in the Obama administration.

• Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a white longtime member of the Armed Services Committee who might be chosen if Republicans keep control of the Senate. Reed served in the Army in the 82nd Airborne Division as a platoon leader, company commander and battalion staff officer before becoming a professor at the U.S. Military Academy.

State Department

• Susan Rice, who is Black and served as national security adviser and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration. Biden already considered her as his running mate after working with her in the White House. But Rice could face a rocky confirmation in a closely divided Senate because of statements she made after the 2012 attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya. Republicans said she misled the American public about the nature of that attack, which left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

• Anthony Blinken, a white Biden campaign adviser and longtime foreign policy official who was Obama’s deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser.

• William Burns, the white president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration. 

• Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a white adviser to Biden who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Treasury

• Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a white former Harvard law professor and a primary rival of Biden. She is a progressive advocate for the working class against big banks and corporations over lending and other consumer issues.

• Lael Brainard, a white governor at the Federal Reserve who served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations.

• Roger Ferguson, the Black chief executive of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America for more than a decade and a former Fed vice chairman.

Homeland Security

• Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American lawyer who ran Customs and Immigration Services before becoming deputy secretary of the department during the Obama administration.

• Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The daughter of immigrants from India had served as principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

• Julian Castro, a Hispanic former secretary of housing and urban development and former mayor of San Antonio. 

Health and Human Services

• Ezekiel Emanuel, the white vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania who served as a health adviser to Biden’s campaign. He was a special adviser for health policy in the White House Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration.

• Vivek Murthy, a trustee of the Rand Corp. and health adviser to Biden’s campaign. Murthy, whose parents are from India, was surgeon general during the Obama administration.

• New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whom Biden considered as vice president, is the first Latina Democrat to the post, previously was a state Cabinet secretary for the Department of Aging and Long-term Services from 2002 to 2004 and the Department of Health from 2004 to 2007.

Labor

• Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a white progressive, self-described socialist who was Biden’s chief rival during the primaries. Sanders has fought throughout his political career for issues such as expanding access to health care, raising the minimum wage and regulating workplace safety.

• William Spriggs, a Black professor of economics at Howard University, chief economist to the AFL-CIO and former assistant secretary of labor during the Obama administration.

• Sharon Block, the white executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and former senior counselor to the labor secretary during the Obama administration.

Education

• Randi Weingarten, the white head of the American Federation of Teachers. She personally endorsed Warren during the primaries but organized virtual campaign events for Biden.

• Lily Garcia, former head of the National Education Association whose mother is from Panama. She serves on the president’s advisory commission on educational excellence for Hispanics and is a board member of the Economic Policy Institute.

Transportation

• Eric Garcetti, whose father is Latino, is the mayor of Los Angeles and co-chairman of Biden’s vice presidential search committee.

• Beth Osborne, the white director of the advocacy group Transportation for America, who served as acting assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary for transportation in the Obama administration. She has worked for lawmakers including Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

Housing and Urban Development

• Eric Garcetti, the white mayor of Los Angeles and co-chairman of Biden’s vice presidential search committee.

• Rep. Karen Bass of California, who was considered as Biden’s running mate. As speaker of the state Assembly, she became the first Black woman to lead a state legislative chamber.

Agriculture

• Heidi Heitkamp, a white former senator from North Dakota who served on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and who previously served as state attorney general.

• Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the white chairman of the House Agriculture Committee who lost is bid for reelection this year after 30 years in Congress. 

• Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a Black woman who heads the Agriculture subcommittee on nutrition and oversight.

Energy

• Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a white former member of the House representing the state, which includes several of the department’s facilities.

• Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., who was acting director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth and a senior adviser at the AFL-CIO. He is white.

Interior

• David Hayes, a white former deputy secretary of interior during the Obama and Clinton administrations. He is executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at New York University Law School.

• Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall of New Mexico, and former Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Udall of Colorado.

• Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, a longstanding member of Congressional Hispanic Caucus who heads the Natural Resources Committee, and Deb Haaland, a registered member of the Native American tribe Pueblo of Laguna who serves on the Natural Resources Committee.

Veterans Affairs

• Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Army National Guard veteran who lost her legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. Duckworth, whose mother is from Thailand, served as assistant secretary of veterans affairs during the Obama administration.

• Pete Buttigieg, the white former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a primary rival of Biden who served in the Navy Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan. Buttigieg, who is gay, also has been mentioned as a potential U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Commerce

• Rohit Chopra, member of the Federal Trade Commission and former undersecretary of education during the Obama administration.

• Susan Helper, a white economics professor at Case Western Reserve University and former senior economist on Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and chief economist at the Commerce Department.

Central Intelligence Agency

• Avril Haines, a white former deputy director of CIA, the first woman to serve in that post, and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration.

• Thomas E. Donilon, a white former national security adviser in the Obama administration who oversaw the transition at the State Department.

• Michael Morell, a white, 30-year CIA veteran who served as the agency’s acting director and its deputy director from 2010 to 2013.

U.S. trade representative

• Jennifer Hillman, a white woman who has extensive experience in trade and international economics as a former World Trade Organization judge and a onetime general counsel in the USTR’s office.

• Miriam Sapiro, a white woman who served as deputy U.S. Trade Representative in the Obama administration, among other positions.

• Tom Nides, a white former deputy secretary of state who is now a managing director and vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, an investment bank.

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Biden, Klain stress need for Ebola funding

Vice President Joe Biden and Ron Klain, the country’s Ebola response coordinator, met with aid groups Thursday to ask for their help in getting Congress to pass an emergency funding measure to combat the disease. (Nov. 13)

Chief of staff

• Ron Klain, a white senior adviser to the Biden campaign who was chief of staff to vice presidents Biden and Al Gore and who headed the White House response to the Ebola epidemic in Africa during the Obama administration.

• Steve Ricchetti, a white former top aide to President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to Biden when he was vice president. 

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, Kevin Johnson, Deirdre Shesgreen

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