President-elect Biden seeks a diverse Cabinet. Here’s who will join his administration and who might be top contenders


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.

His commitment to nominating candidates of diverse backgrounds was reflected in several of his early announcements. He tapped Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American, to become the first Latino head of the Department of Homeland Security; Janet Yellen as the first woman to head the Treasury; Avril Haines as the first female director of national intelligence and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Black woman, as his ambassador to the United Nations.

He will reportedly select Pete Buttigieg as his Transportation Secretary, who, if confirmed, would make history as the first openly gay Cabinet secretary if confirmed by the Senate.

After Biden’s victory, much of the speculation about his potential appointments centered on high-profile figures, including several of his rivals in the Democratic primary, like Buttigieg, and a number of sitting senators.

Biden indicated it’s unlikely he would tap progressives like Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, telling NBC News, “We already have significant representation among progressives in our administration.” Biden said taking a “person of consequence” out of the House or Senate would be “a really difficult decision” because, “I have a very ambitious, very progressive agenda, and it’s going to take really strong leaders in the House and Senate to get it done.”

“But there’s nothing really off the table,” Biden added.

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

Broad support: The prominent Republicans who supported Biden

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have pledged to run an administration that reflects the nation's diversity.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have pledged to run an administration that reflects the nation’s diversity.

Here is a look at who he has picked and the top contenders for the open jobs:

Transportation: Pete Buttigieg

Biden has chosen former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his transportation secretary, according to The Associated Press.

More: President-elect Joe Biden wants to put Pete Buttigieg in charge of Transportation Department

Buttigieg, who competed with Biden for the nomination before dropping out and endorsing him, would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary if confirmed by the Senate.

Buttigieg was the nation’s youngest mayor of a city South Bend’s size or larger when he took office in 2012. He envisioned his hometown as a “beta city,” the perfect size to use his data-driven background with the consulting firm McKinsey to test big ideas. That included the “smart sewers” that saved South Bend an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars and became a template for a product now sold to cities all over the world.

Pete Buttigieg endorses Joe Biden in Dallas on March 2, 2020.
Pete Buttigieg endorses Joe Biden in Dallas on March 2, 2020.

Energy: Jennifer Granholm

Biden will select former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be Secretary of Energy, according to multiple news reports.

More: Joe Biden selects former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to lead Energy Department, reports say

Granholm, 61, was attorney general of Michigan from 1999 to 2003 and the 47th Governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011. She was the first woman to serve as Michigan’s governor, where she made clean energy development a hallmark of her administration.

Since she left the governor’s mansion, Granholm has been involved in several initiatives focused on transforming the nation’s energy industry from one focused on fossil fuels to one expanding renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

Chief of staff: Ron Klain

Biden has tapped Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff. Klain, 59, was a white senior adviser to the Biden campaign. Her served as chief of staff to vice presidents Biden and Al Gore and headed the White House response to the Ebola epidemic in Africa during the Obama administration. He is widely seen as a front-runner for the position.

A close confidant of Biden, Klain had long been rumored for the post even before the election.

More: Ron Klain named Biden’s chief of staff, first White House official picked for administration

In a statement, Biden said Klain’s “deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”

Secretary of State: Antony Blinken

Biden named Antony Blinken, a veteran foreign policy official and longtime confidant, as his choice for secretary of State.

Blinken, who held top-level national security and State Department positions during the Obama administration, has worked side-by-side with Biden on foreign policy issues for nearly two decades.

The move may disappoint some who wanted Biden to nominate Susan Rice, another longtime foreign policy hand and a Black woman, to lead the State Department. Biden has pledged to appoint a diverse Cabinet and tapping Rice would have sent an early signal of his commitment to fulfilling that pledge.

Treasury secretary: Janet Yellen

President-elect Joe Biden named Janet Yellen, the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, to lead the Treasury Department. If she is confirmed, Yellen would become the first woman to head the department.

Yellen became chair of the Federal Reserve System in February 2014 during the Obama administration, after serving more than three years as vice governor. She previously served as head of the Council of Economic Advisers to President Bill Clinton.

Yellen argued in August that Congress needed to approve additional stimulus to spur growth amid the coronavirus pandemic, as she wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times and told National Public Radio. As a member of the Climate Leadership Council, she supported taxing carbon emissions as the most efficient way to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Defense secretary: Lloyd Austin

Biden will nominate retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to lead the Pentagon, the president-elect announced Dec. 9.

Austin, who would be the first Black Defense secretary, was the Army’s vice chief of staff and also led the military’s most consequential command, Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Austin prefers to work behind the scenes, building by consensus and leading by example.

The military has struggled to diversify its senior military ranks. Austin is one of a relatively few Black Army officers who have commanded combat units, which is the principal route to the highest commands in the military.

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas

Biden selected Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American lawyer who ran Citizenship and Immigration Services before becoming deputy secretary of the department during the Obama administration, to head the Department of Homeland Security. If confirmed, Mayorkas would be the first Latino to run the department since it was established in 2003.

Mayorkas, who arrived in the U.S. with his parents as refugees in 1960, would also be the first immigrant to head DHS, which has been at the center of several of President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policies.

Health and Human Services: Xavier Becerra

Biden will nominate California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Health and Human Services department, a critical appointment amid a global pandemic that has killed more than 280,000 people in the U.S. alone.

If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra, 62, will be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1-trillion-plus agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, leading-edge medical research and health insurance programs covering more than 130 million Americans.

Ambassador to the UN: Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Biden will nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who served as the top U.S. diplomat overseeing African affairs in the Obama administration, to be his ambassador to the United Nations.

Biden’s nomination of Thomas-Greenfield would elevate a Black woman and career foreign service official to the high-profile position. She would bring a markedly different tone and presence to the international body, which the Trump administration has derided and denigrated.

Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman and diplomat, tweeted that Thomas-Greenfield is “a diplomatic powerhouse respected around the world. I’ve witnessed her getting human rights activists freed and kleptocrats held accountable.”

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines

Biden nominated Avril Haines, a former deputy CIA director and deputy national security adviser, to become the first woman to lead the U.S. intelligence community as the director of national intelligence.

Haines worked directly with the president-elect previously, serving as deputy chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2007 to 2008 when Biden was the committee’s chairman.

National security adviser: Jake Sullivan

Biden tapped Jake Sullivan to serve as his national security adviser, a role he filled for Biden when he was vice president. Sullivan also previously served as deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and director of the policy planning staff at the State Department under Hillary Clinton.

Sullivan was a lead negotiator during the opening of the talks that led to the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump later pulled out of and which Biden hopes to revive.

White House press secretary: Jen Psaki

Biden chose all women for his communications team, led by Jen Psaki, a veteran of President Barack Obama’s administration, as his press secretary. Psaki, who wore many hats under Obama, including White House communications director, has overseen the confirmation team for Biden’s transition.

As press secretary, Psaki will become the public face of the Biden administration, a role that Kayleigh McEnany holds in Trump’s administration.

Chief medical adviser: Anthony Fauci

Biden told CNN he asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, to become his chief medical adviser and part of his COVID-19 response team. Fauci has been a top official dealing with the pandemic.

When asked on NBC’s “Today” show if he told Biden he would serve as his chief medical adviser, Fauci said, “Oh, absolutely. I said yes right on the spot.”

Climate change envoy: John Kerry

Former Secretary of State John Kerry was tapped to serve as Biden’s special presidential envoy. Kerry played a key role in crafting the Paris Climate Accord and signed the eventual agreement.

The Paris accord was another international agreement entered during the Obama administration that Trump pulled the U.S. out of and that Biden hopes to rejoin.

Office of Management and Budget: Neera Tanden

Neera Tanden would be the first woman and first person of Southeast Asian descent to lead the Office of Management and Budget, which not only maps the president’s spending blueprint but also serves as a key gatekeeper by reviewing government regulations for their financial impact.

Some progressive Democrats objected to Tanden’s nomination as did numerous Republican senators who objected to her history of combative tweets.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. – who is expected to chair the Budget Committee that will oversee Tanden’s confirmation – told reporters Tanden could face an “uphill battle” being approved.

Surgeon general: Vivek Murthy

Biden selected Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general during the last three years of the Obama administration, to return to his former role. As surgeon general from 2014-2017, Murthy helped lead the U.S. response to the Zika and Ebola outbreaks and he worked to address the opioid crisis.

Murthy also helped bring attention to the health consequences of stress and loneliness, an issue often raised as local governments impose restrictions in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

CDC director: Rochelle Walensky

Biden has selected Rochelle Walensky, head of the infectious disease division at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard Medical School professor, to replace Robert Redfield as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Walensky is best known for her work on the national and international response to HIV/AIDS.

Justice Department

Biden hasn’t yet chosen his Justice Department chief, but a number of contenders have emerged.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a 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 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 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 Biden won.

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a 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, 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.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, as she poses with other female House members prior to the official opening of the 113th Congress.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, as she poses with other female House members prior to the official opening of the 113th Congress.

Labor

Biden hasn’t yet chosen his head of Labor, but a number of contenders have emerged.

  • William Spriggs, a 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 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

Biden hasn’t yet chosen his education secretary, but a number of contenders have emerged.

  • Randi Weingarten, the 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 . She serves on the president’s advisory commission on educational excellence for Hispanics and is a board member of the Economic Policy Institute.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren joins AFT President Randi Weingarten at Oscar Depriest Elementary School to support CPS teachers and staff on strike in Chicago on Oct. 22, 2019.
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren joins AFT President Randi Weingarten at Oscar Depriest Elementary School to support CPS teachers and staff on strike in Chicago on Oct. 22, 2019.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, wears a facemask as he arrives for the 2020 vice presidential debate.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, wears a facemask as he arrives for the 2020 vice presidential debate.

Housing and Urban Development: Rep. Marcia Fudge

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, is Biden’s nominee to serve as the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he announced. The nomination comes after Biden allies, including South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, lobbied Biden to follow through on his promise to nominate a Cabinet that “looks like America.” Fudge would be the fifth African American head of HUD.

HUD will play a critical role in the administration’s economic recovery plans, as the country faces an acute rent and mortgage crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack

Tom Vilsack, who served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of agriculture for eight years, will be nominated to reclaim the role under Biden. The Iowa Democrat is a longtime Biden ally and an experienced hand on rural issues, though his nomination has disgruntled some Black lawmakers who expected a Black nominee in the role.

Vilsack’s agenda will naturally focus on rural areas, which have seen their economies especially hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats also hope that a focused policy agenda will help the party’s prospects in rural areas, where its image has suffered.

In this Aug. 21, 2018 file photo, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., left, and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., speak on Capitol Hill in Washington. Both senators are from states President Trump won in 2016 and are being targeted to support Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.
In this Aug. 21, 2018 file photo, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., left, and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., speak on Capitol Hill in Washington. Both senators are from states President Trump won in 2016 and are being targeted to support Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.

Interior

Biden hasn’t yet chosen his secretary of the interior, but a number of contenders have emerged.

  • David Hayes, 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.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, left, and Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 26, 2010, before the House Natural Resources Committee.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, left, and Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 26, 2010, before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough

Biden chose Denis McDonough, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, as his secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he announced in a statement.

McDonough served as chief of staff during Obama’s second term, and was previously the deputy national security adviser, a position he held during the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He is credited with helping Obama on Capitol Hill to bridge divides around the Veterans Choice Act, the Associated Press reported.

Commerce

Biden hasn’t yet chosen his Commerce secretary, but a number of contenders have emerged.

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

  • Susan Helper, an 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

Biden hasn’t yet chosen his head of the CIA, but a number of contenders have emerged.

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

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

President Barack Obama, second from left, former aide Samantha Power, right, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, third from left, and incumbent National Security Adviser Tom Donilon return to the Oval Office after a announcement at the Rose Garden of the White House on June 5, 2013
President Barack Obama, second from left, former aide Samantha Power, right, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, third from left, and incumbent National Security Adviser Tom Donilon return to the Oval Office after a announcement at the Rose Garden of the White House on June 5, 2013

U.S. trade representative: Katherine Tai

Biden will nominate Katherine Tai to be United States trade representative, the nation’s top negotiator in trade relations, he announced. Tai, who is chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee, was integral to the Trump administration’s negotiation of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), winning several concessions for congressional Democrats.

Tai would be the first Asian American person and the first woman of color in the role. Tai previously directed China trade enforcement for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and is expected to be integral in crafting U.S. trade policy toward China.

White House Domestic Policy Council: Susan Rice

Biden chose Susan Rice – a seasoned diplomat with extensive foreign policy and national security experience – to be director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, his campaign announced Thursday.

Rice does not have domestic policy experience, and she was seen as a top contender to be Biden’s secretary of state. Rice served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and then as his national security adviser.

Biden’s campaign said the president-elect chose Rice for the role because she “knows government inside and out” and will “turbocharge the effort to build back better.” Rice’s appointment is a signal Biden wants his domestic and foreign policy advisers to work hand-in-hand.

Rice’s nomination, as a Black woman, also reflects Biden’s push for a diverse staff.

Other White House staffers

Biden and Harris have named a number of other staffers to serve in his incoming administration:

  • Cedric Richmond, senior adviser and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement

  • Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director

  • Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president

  • Dana Remus, White House counsel

  • Jen O’Malley Dillon, deputy chief of staff

  • Louisa Terrell, director of White House Office of Legislative Affairs

  • Reema Dodin, deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs

  • Shuwanza Goff, deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs

  • Cathy Russell, director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel

  • Mike Donilon, senior adviser to the president

  • Pili Tobar, deputy White House communications director

  • Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary

  • Julie Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

  • Carlos Elizondo, White House social secretary

  • Annie Tomasini, director of Oval Office operations

  • Hartina Flournoy, chief of staff to the vice president

  • Ashley Etienne, communications director to the vice president

  • Symone Sanders, senior adviser and chief spokesperson for the vice president

  • Rohini Kosoglu, domestic policy adviser to the vice president

  • Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon, chief of staff to the first lady

  • Elizabeth Alexander, communications director for the first lady

  • Mala Adiga, policy director for the first lady

  • Anthony Bernal, senior adviser to the first lady

Other senior administration officials

Health team:

  • Marcella Nunez-Smith, COVID-19 equity task force chairwoman

  • Jeff Zients, COVID-19 response coordinator and counselor to the president

  • Natalie Quillian, deputy COVID-19 response coordinator

Economics team:

  • Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

  • Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary of the treasury

  • Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, Kevin Johnson, Deirdre Shesgreen, Savannah Behrmann, Rebecca Morin and Tom Vanden Brook, Jeanine Santucci

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden Cabinet picks: Who may be tapped for leadership roles





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