As of November 24th, President-Elect Joe Biden has released three of his 15 cabinet picks (Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Homeland Security) along with his picks for other top positions (National Security Advisor, Presidential Envoy for Climate, Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of National Intelligence). When announcing his nominations, Biden claimed, “America is back,” and that his nominees were “ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.”
The presidential cabinet is formally composed of 15 members in addition to the vice president. The purpose of the cabinet is to advise the president in their respective areas of expertise. The president-elect typically nominates members of their cabinet around two months before inauguration. The nominations for most of these positions must then be confirmed by the Senate.
Secretary of State: Antony Blinken
The secretary of state’s area of expertise is foreign affairs, and they work closely with the State Department and the Foreign Service of the United States.
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and as deputy secretary of state and principal deputy national security advisor during the Obama administration. He also served as national security adviser to Biden when he was vice president.
Secretary of the Treasury: Janet Yellen
The secretary of the treasury’s area of expertise is domestic and international economic policy. The new secretary of the treasury will be responsible for spearheading Biden’s plan to improve the economy following the pandemic and narrowing the wealth gap, as Biden promised to do during his campaign.
Beyond her work in academia, Yellen has served on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, as the president of the Federal Reserve of San Francisco and as vice-chair of the Federal Reserve. Most notably, Yellen previously served as chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014-18 after being nominated by then-President Obama. Yellen was the first female chair of the Federal Reserve and would also be the first female secretary of the treasury.
Secretary of Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas
The role of the secretary of homeland security is to protect U.S. citizens from any external threats, a position created following 9/11. One responsibility for the new secretary of homeland security will be to manage immigration policy.
Mayorkas was born in Havana, Cuba, one year before his family moved to the U.S. as refugees. After working as a lawyer, Mayorkas served as United States Attorney for the Central District of California after being nominated by then-President Clinton. After Obama took office, he nominated Mayorkas for director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from 2009-2013 and eventually for deputy secretary of homeland security from 2013-2016. Mayorkas would be the first Latino person and first immigrant to serve as secretary of homeland security.
One potential issue Mayorkas could face prior to his Senate confirmation is a whistleblower complaint from his tenure as USCIS. According to a DHS Office of Inspector General report from 2015, employees claimed that Mayorkas “exerted influence to give individuals preference as part of the visa program” and “communicated outside of the normal adjudicatory process" and intervened in the decision-making process.” Mayorkas claimed that these allegations were unfounded, and the investigation following the complaint ultimately cleared him.
National Security Advisor: Jake Sullivan
The national security advisor, also known as the assistant to the president for national security affairs, is in charge of national security and coordinates the president’s international travel and meetings with foreign leaders. The national security advisor does not require a Senate confirmation but does require a three or four-star General military ranking.
Sullivan served as deputy chief of staff and director of policy planning for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and as a security aide to then-Vice President Biden.
Presidential Envoy for Climate: John Kerry
The role of the presidential envoy for climate or “climate czar” is to manage the United States’s response to climate change. The presidential envoy for climate will serve on the National Security Council, which is unprecedented and an elevation of what the position was previously. According to the Biden transition team, this “[reflects] the president-elect's commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue."
Kerry graduated from Yale then enlisted in the Naval Reserve. During his military service in the Vietnam War, Kerry earned the bronze and silver star and went on to become an anti-war activist. He then served as a senator from Massachusetts, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and the U.S. secretary of state from 2013-2017. According to Scientific American, “Kerry’s résumé on climate change is long and deep, spanning both his time in Foggy Bottom and on Capitol Hill.” During his time as a senator, Kerry sponsored the highest-profile carbon cap-and-trade bill of the Obama era, and as secretary of state, he signed the Paris climate agreement on behalf of the United States.
Ambassador to the United Nations: Linda Thomas-Greenfield
The purpose of a UN ambassador is to represent the United States at the UN and advise the president on foreign affairs.
Thomas-Greenfield served as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration from 2004-2006, ambassador to Liberia from 2008-2012 and director general of the foreign service and director of human resources from 2012-2013. Most recently, she served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2013-2017 but was fired by Trump as part of his purge of senior State Department officials shortly after he took office. At the time of her firing, Thomas-Greenfield was the highest-ranking Black diplomat at the State level.
Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines
The role of the director of national intelligence is to oversee the National Intelligence Program and advise the president on matters related to national security intelligence.
Haines previously served as legal advisor to the National Security Council, deputy director of the CIA and deputy national security advisor after being appointed by Obama for all three positions. Haines was the first female deputy director of the CIA and deputy national security advisor and would also be the first female director of national intelligence.
Haines has been criticized for her support of CIA Director Gina Haspel, who has confessed to her involvement and knowledge of the CIA torture at black sites, secret prisons where agents use “enhanced interrogation” to extract information from detainees. In addition, Haines has been criticized for her own role in the Obama administration drone program.
Representative Jamaal Bowman has stated, “[the cabinet nominations so far are] not as progressive as I would like it to be, but it's good news that Biden so far is also keeping conservative Democrats who are hostile to progressives, like Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed, out.”
Many are still waiting to see who Biden will nominate for the positions remaining. According to Senator Brian Schatz, “the left needs to “see the full pantheon of nominees before we make a judgment about whether this team is sufficiently committed to the kinds of change necessary.”
Biden is expected to release the remainder of his cabinet nominations in the coming weeks.
Article Thumbnail: "Joe Biden official portrait 2013" by David Lienemann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons