President-Elect Joe Biden Announces Nominations to Cabinet, Administration Posts
How do you feel about Biden’s nominations?
- President-elect Joe Biden has begun announcing nominations to posts in his administration. Some appointees will take office on Inauguration Day, while others will have their nominations formally submitted to begin the Senate confirmation process.
- It’s currently unclear which party will control the Senate, as a pair of runoffs for the Georgia Senate seats will be held on January 5th to determine whether Republicans will retain their majority or if Democrats will control the floor by virtue of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote.
- While all of the nominees submitted by the incoming Biden administration would likely be confirmed by Democratic Senate, some may have their nominations imperiled by a GOP majority. With the caveat that these nominations are subject to change, here’s what you need to know about the nominees Biden has picked so far.
NATIONAL SECURITY & FOREIGN POLICY
- Retired General Lloyd Austin has been chosen to lead the Dept. of Defense. If confirmed, Austin would be the first African American Secretary of Defense. Austin is a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. Army for more than 40 years, rising to the rank of four star general.
- He was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division when it invaded Iraq in March 2003, and commanded the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan from September 2003 until August 2005. Austin later became the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq during the 2010-2011 drawdown, and served as the leader of Central Command from 2013 until his retirement in 2016. Following his retirement, Austin has served on the board of directors of defense contractor Raytheon Technologies, Tenet Healthcare Corporation, and Nucor Corporation (a large U.S. steel producer).
- Because Austin retired only four years ago, he requires a waiver from Congress to serve as Secretary of Defense due to the National Security Act’s requirement that a secretary be at least seven years removed from active duty service. Congress approved a waiver to allow retired General James Mattis to serve as President Donald Trump’s defense chief in 2017.
- Austin’s waiver has to be approved by the House in addition to the Senate, so his nomination will receive more congressional scrutiny than the other Biden Cabinet picks. Lawmakers have expressed concerns that Austin’s selection and the waiver could be a move away from the tradition of civilian control of the military so soon after Mattis’s stint as Pentagon chief.
- Others still have taken issue with his handling of the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria as leader of Central Command, pointing to an article in The Atlantic which wrote in 2016 that Austin told the Obama White House that ISIS was “a flash in the pan” ― which prompted President Barack Obama’s comment about ISIS being the “jayvee team” of terrorism. Austin disputes those comments and denied considering ISIS “a flash in the pan”. A congressional panel found that CENTCOM tried to downplay the rise of ISIS and provided assessments that were more positive than actual events on the ground, sparking bipartisan criticism.
- The terror group went on to launch several attacks against targets in the West, and seized control of a large portion of Iraq and Syria before the U.S. and its allies, particularly the Kurds, rolled back the group’s territorial gains over the ensuing years.
Secretary of State
- Antony Blinken served as deputy secretary of state, the nation’s second highest ranking diplomat, from 2015-2017 after he previously served as principal deputy national security advisor to President Barack Obama.
- Blinken also worked in the Clinton administration as a National Security Council staffer from 1994-2001, and as the Democratic staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008.
- The secretary of state is fourth in the line of succession to the presidency behind the vice president, the speaker of the House, and the Senate’s president pro tempore.
- Blinken was confirmed as deputy secretary of state in 2014 on a mostly party-line vote, and the only two Republicans who voted in favor of his confirmation have since retired.
Secretary of Homeland Security
- Alejandro Mayorkas is a former law enforcement official who served in the Obama administration as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009-2013 and deputy secretary of homeland security from 2013-2016.
- During his time at the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), Mayorkas implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, led the agency’s response to Ebola and Zika, and created a Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate to improve the integrity of the legal immigration system.
- If confirmed, Mayorkas would become the first Latino and the first immigrant to lead DHS. Mayorkas was confirmed as deputy DHS secretary in late 2013 on a party-line vote, and it’s unclear whether Republicans will oppose his nomination again.
Director of National Intelligence
- Avril Haines served in several roles during the Obama administration, including as the principal deputy national security adviser and the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
- Haines was the first woman to serve in both of those roles, and would become the first woman to serve as DNI.
- The DNI role was established in 2005 to provide a single leader for America’s 17-member Intelligence Community, and is subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Ambassador to the United Nations
- Linda Thomas-Greenfield is a former diplomat who retired from the foreign service at the conclusion of the Obama administration to work for a global business strategy firm. Her 35 year diplomatic career took her to four continents, including diplomatic posts in Liberia, Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica.
- Thomas-Greenfield would be the second Black woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the UN, following in the footsteps of Susan Rice, who served in the role during the Obama administration.
- Like other ambassadorships, this role is subject to Senate’s advice and consent. Thomas-Greenfield hasn’t held a position subject to Senate confirmation in the past, although it’s unclear whether there will be any objections to her nomination.
National Security Adviser
- Jake Sullivan served as National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden during the Obama administration. He had previously served in the Obama administration as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and as director of the Policy Planning Staff (the State Dept.’s internal think tank).
- Biden’s announcement credited Sullivan as “a lead negotiator in the initial talks that paved the way for the Iran nuclear deal” and for playing a key role in the 2012 Gaza ceasefire.
- The national security adviser role isn’t subject to the Senate’s advice and consent.
Special Presidential Envoy on Climate
- Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1985 to 2013 representing Massachusetts as a Democrat, has been chosen to serve in the role popularly known as the “energy czar” when the office was last occupied during the first two years of the Obama administration.
- Kerry was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, when he was defeated by President George W. Bush.
- The role isn’t subject to Senate confirmation, although Kerry was confirmed 94-3 to serve as the secretary of state during the Obama administration, so his former colleagues likely would’ve confirmed him easily once again.
Health & Human Services Secretary
- California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been selected to lead the Dept. of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino to lead HHS.
- Becerra has served as California attorney general since 2017 and was preceded in that role by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Prior to serving as attorney general, Becerra served 12 terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and eventually became the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
- It’s unclear whether Becerra’s nomination will receive bipartisan support in the Senate, but his partisan background as a former Democratic leader in Congress and relative lack of experience in the healthcare industry may lead to a contentious confirmation process.
- Dr. Vivek Murthy has been chosen to serve as the Surgeon General, a role he held from 2014 to 2017, at which time he became the first person of Indian descent to serve as surgeon general.
- Murthy currently co-chairs Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, and during his previous tenure as surgeon general, Murthy helped lead the response to the Ebola and Zika viruses and the opioid crisis.
- Murthy’s confirmation process could prove challenging, as he garnered only one Republican vote when he was confirmed 51-43 in 2014, and that senator is no longer in office.
Chief Medical Adviser on COVID-19
- Anthony Fauci will serve as Chief Medical Adviser on COVID-19 to the president and continue to play a leading role in informing the public about health risks and safety measures. The role is not subject to Senate confirmation.
- Fauci will also remain the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a role he has held since 1984. Fauci has served as an adviser to six U.S. presidents.
- Former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has been chosen to lead the Dept. of the Treasury. Yellen was the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, a role she served in from 2014 to 2018 after she spent four years as the vice chair of the Fed’s Board of Governors.
- If confirmed, she would become the first woman to lead the Treasury Dept., and would also have the distinction of becoming the first person to have served as Secretary of the Treasury, chair the Fed’s Board of Governors, and chair the Council of Economic Advisers ― a role she held during the Clinton administration.
- Yellen received some bipartisan support when she was confirmed as Fed chair in 2014 with unanimous support from Democrats and several Republican votes, including from Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
Director of the Office of Management & Budget (OMB)
- Neera Tanden currently serves as the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and has been tapped to lead the OMB. If confirmed, Tanden would be the first woman of color and the first South Asian American to lead the agency.
- OMB is the largest office within the Executive Office of the President. Its responsibilities include producing the president’s budget request, in addition to examining federal programs, policies, and procedures.
- Tanden is likely to face scrutiny from both sides of the aisle during her confirmation process. Republicans take issue with the liberal bent of her policy preferences and her disparagement of GOP senators on social media, while some Democrats have expressed unease with her handling of sexual assault allegations at the Center for American Progress and Tanden’s critical tweets about supporters of progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
This post may be updated as additional nominations are announced. The most recent nominations appear at the top.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Kerry: usembassykyiv via Flickr / Public Domain | Blinken: U.S. Embassy Nigeria via Flickr / Public Domain | Mayorkas: World Travel & Tourism Council via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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