Joe Biden has vowed his presidency will mean a return to normalcy. His cabinet choices help demonstrate how he plans to deliver.
The president-elect announced his nominees last week, completing a diverse team of two dozen. He noted on Friday that it will be the “very first cabinet” to achieve gender parity and include a majority of people of color, which is notable given previous concerns that it leaned heavily on white men.
Some candidates have decades of experience in their respective agencies. Many have held prominent roles in the Obama administration. Many have already started meeting with interest groups and advocacy organizations, and his transition team has been having what has been described as an “open door policy” towards advocacy groups for months.
This is in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s cabinet, which was largely dominated by white men with little experience in Washington. Biden aides say that was one of the goals he set for himself in completing his cabinet: to signal that his presidency means a return to a competent and stable governing government.
This is especially important, Democrats say, as the pandemic and economic turmoil rage and the country grapples with the aftermath of last week’s violent insurgency on the U.S. Capitol.
“Joe Biden is taking office under the most difficult circumstances in a century,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s former senior White House adviser. “There is no time for on-the-job training. He needs people who can get started, because what happens in the first six months of his presidency will likely determine the trajectory of those four years. “
Biden’s cabinet is unlikely to be in place when he assumes the presidency on January 20. The Senate, which must confirm the nominees, has not scheduled hearings for most of the choices. One exception is Lloyd Austin, Biden’s candidate for Secretary of Defense, who is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 19.
Some candidates were faced with early questions about their prospects for confirmation, particularly Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden angered Republicans with his open criticism of them on Twitter.
But the confirmation process for many candidates could be smoother after Democrats won two Senate seats in Georgia last week, leaving the chamber equally divided. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be the deciding vote, giving Democrats the edge.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said the president-elect was “ working in good faith with both sides in Congress for a quick confirmation, because with so much at stake, with our national security at stake and lives and of the jobs lost every day, our nation cannot afford to waste time. “
But many candidates may face unprecedented levels of scrutiny as they strive to extricate their departments from both eroding public confidence in government and eroding morale in the government. interior. Many budgets and departmental workers were emptied under the Trump administration.
This digging in part explains why it’s so important for Biden to choose seasoned veterans for his cabinet, according to Eric Schultz, a former White House senior adviser.
“One of the issues Biden faces that Obama did not do in 2009 is the way the Trump administration has treated federal agencies and departments,” he said. “Rebuilding – simply, operationally – these agencies, to get them back up and running, will take a lot of work. So it wouldn’t make sense to bring in a group of beginners.
They will also have to navigate the demands of progressives seeking major change from the heads of agencies ranging from the Department of Homeland Security to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice. Many of them will be on the front lines to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 371,000 people in the United States, while taking action on the issues of race, inequality and climate change that have prompted national movements to change. these last years.
To anticipate these issues, Biden’s transition team spent months meeting with trade, advocacy, and interest groups in Washington and beyond, seeking to restore relationships that had faltered under administration. Trump. Now that his team has been appointed, his candidates have started their own meetings with key groups as they prepare to take office.
Some meetings aim to allay critics’ concerns, such as when Tom Vilsack, Biden’s choice for agriculture secretary, met with advocates for black farms. Vilsack has been faced with questions about what critics say was his failure to tackle discrimination against black farmers within the agency while he was Obama’s agriculture chief.
But still others have included representatives from areas that are not generally considered preferred Democratic constituencies. Three of Biden’s top picks for health adviser positions met with interfaith leaders on Thursday, and the next day Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s choice at Homeland Security, met with 20 leaders who share his Jewish faith.
Reverend Gabriel Salguero, a Florida-based pastor who founded the National Latin American Evangelical Coalition, said the Biden transition made a “very solid and very intentional” effort to build relationships with religious leaders. Salguero recalled other specific calls to faith with Susan Rice, chosen as Biden’s domestic policy adviser, and Tanden.
While Salguero recalled meetings with the Trump administration on key issues, he said the outreach of Biden’s transition team had already gone further.
Even groups that may be more aligned with Trump and Republicans on their issues are already happy with Biden’s approach to government. Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf said the response from his business clients and other lobbyists in Washington has been, he said, “very positive” because “business certainly likes it.”
“Businesses love a plan,” Elmendorf said. “And while some of the results under Donald Trump, people liked, they really didn’t like the government by tweet and Fox News.
Even those who do not agree with all of Biden’s policies, Elmendorf said, are relieved to return to a normal operating state because “they believe that there will be a known, transparent and stakeholder process. an opportunity. to make their point of view known.
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