by Thomas Catenacci, Kaylee Greenlee and Andrew Trunsky
Since President-elect Joe Biden won the election in November, he has been announcing the Cabinet nominees who will help him achieve his administration’s agenda.
His nominees, if confirmed by the Senate after he takes office, would comprise the most diverse Cabinet in American history, a promise which Biden made while campaigning. Below is a list of who he has chosen to head departments throughout the executive branch.
Judge Merrick Garland, Attorney General
Biden tapped D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland to be his attorney general on Jan. 7.
Garland was appointed to the circuit by former President Bill Clinton in 1997. His nomination was reported as Democrats became poised to take the Senate for the first time since 2015, potentially giving Biden enough votes to successfully appoint Garland’s eventual successor on the circuit court.
Former President Barack Obama nominated Garland to the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, but he was denied confirmation hearings by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said at the time that Supreme Court vacancies should not be filled in an election year.
If confirmed, Garland would immediately oversee the federal investigation into the president-elect’s son Hunter Biden over his taxes and business dealings, and a special counsel investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. Biden has repeatedly said that the investigation into his son would have no bearing on his selection of an attorney general.
While working in the Department of Justice, Garland prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombers and the Unabomber.
During his acceptance speech, Garland said that he would not have agreed to serve had it not been for Biden’s and Vice President-elect Harris assurance that the Justice Department would remain independent.
“The rule of law is not just some lawyers’ turn of phrase. It is the very foundation of our democracy,” he said.
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State
Biden tapped former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken to be the United States’ top diplomat on Nov. 24, 2020.
Blinken has long advised Biden on foreign policy, including serving as his top aide while Biden was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Blinken is a strong advocate for international alliances and coalitions, including the Paris Climate Accords, the World Health Organization and the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. He criticized the Trump administration for its withdrawing from the Iran deal in 2018.
Blinken was an advocate for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 2015 trade deal between the United States and other Pacific Rim countries intended to decrease China’s influence in the region, and criticized the Trump administration’s withdrawal from it, calling it a strategic and economic mistake.
“Without U.S. leadership, China fills [the] gap and worker, environmental and intellectual property rights wane. Not in our interest,” Blinken tweeted.
Blinken did, however, praise the Trump administration’s peace deals between Israel and other Middle Eastern nations in an interview with Jewish Insider.
“It is good for Israel that the [Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates] are recognizing [Israel’s] existence and moving toward normalization,” he said in the October interview. “That’s a positive step and one that should be applauded and one that Vice President Biden did applaud in the moment.”
Blinken added that the significance of the deals was “a little bit overstating,” noting that the countries had never actually been at war.
Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense
Joe Biden picked retired four-star Gen. Lloyd Austin to be his secretary of defense on Dec. 8, the Daily Caller reported.
Austin downplayed ISIS in 2014 and denied allegations of brushing off the terrorist group while serving as commander of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, the DCNF reported. Witnesses said he did not like to receive bad news about the campaign against ISIS because they thought his goal was to portray a “rosier” image of the conflict
Austin is the only African American to have led the U.S. Central Command, according to Politico. He oversaw the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq in 2011. Biden commended him for his role in bringing 150,000 troops home from Afghanistan, the Daily Caller reported.
He previously served on the board of the defense contractor Raytheon Technologies, which critics say could be a possible conflict of interest, The New York Times reported.
The Alabama native would be the first black man to oversee the Pentagon if confirmed.
Janet Yellen, Secretary of Treasury
Biden officially announced that he would nominate former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen to be his secretary of the Department of the Treasury on Nov. 30.
Yellen, 74, who was the first woman to serve as Federal Reserve chair after her Senate confirmation in 2014, would be the first woman to head the Treasury Department, according to CNBC. Yellen is widely considered to be a “safe” pick with a high likelihood of confirmation by a closely divided Senate.
“She’s well liked, but she gets her way,” economic-advisory firm MacroPolicy Perspectives founder Julia Coronado told The Wall Street Journal. “One of her underappreciated talents is the ability to drive a consensus in pretty convincing ways. She got stuff done.”
Yellen will be tasked with leading the U.S. economy back from the devastating toll caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to The WSJ. Millions of Americans remain unemployed and job growth has slowed.
She recently supported the idea that Congress should guide the economic recovery by increasing spending, The WSJ reported. She said it was the role of Congress to fight unemployment and support small businesses by spending more.
President Donald Trump replaced Yellen with current Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell in 2018.
Yellen reportedly raked in more than $7.2 million giving speeches at giant Wall Street firms including Citi and Goldman Sachs, and other large corporations including Google.
Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security
Biden picked former Obama-era Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the department on Nov. 23, the DCNF reported.
Mayorkas previously worked in strategic counseling and crisis management for WilmerHale, an international law firm. He served as the deputy of DHS under the Obama-Biden administration from 2013-2016 and led the Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009-2015.
The Cuban native would be the first immigrant and first Hispanic to lead DHS if confirmed by the Senate.
Mayorkas reportedly lobbied the Clinton administration for clemency on behalf of a convicted cocaine trafficker while acting Los Angeles U.S. attorney, according to the Daily Caller News Foundation. The House committee called Mayorka’s advocacy “totally inappropriate” given his position.
He allegedly helped Democrats like Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, obtain visas for their wealthy Chinese business partners, the DCNF reported. Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said Mayorkas should be disqualified from consideration due to his actions.
Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Biden nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Health and Human Services Department on Dec. 7. If confirmed, he would be the first Latino to hold the position.
Becerra, a former Congressman from Los Angeles, emerged as the leading candidate for the post only a few days before he was chosen. If confirmed, he would take over a department critical to guiding the United States out of the coronavirus pandemic and responsible for overseeing the nationwide distribution of safe and effective vaccines.
As the attorney general of the country’s largest state, Becerra led multiple legal efforts in defense of the Affordable Care Act and has been a vocal advocate for women’s health and abortion access.
“The A.C.A. has been life-changing and now through this pandemic, we can see all the value in having greater access to quality health care at affordable prices,” he said in a Supreme Court brief in June.
Becerra also said in 2017 that he would “absolutely” support Medicare-for-All, though Biden has explicitly rejected the proposal and instead favored building on the A.C.A.
Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education
Biden selected Miguel Cardona, the current Connecticut education commissioner, to lead the Department of Education in his incoming administration on Dec. 22.
Cardona began his career in education as a public school teacher in Meriden, Connecticut before he served as a school principal, according to his official bio. After more than a decade, Cardona transitioned to the school district’s central office to lead the work of performance and evaluation.
Cardona, a former member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), would be a great choice to lead the Department of Education because of his past union affiliation, AFT President Randi Weingarten tweeted, applauding the pick.
The AFT and National Education Association, which are among the largest unions in the U.S., both endorsed Biden during the Democratic primaries in March. Weingarten said Biden shares AFT’s values in her endorsement message.
“Joe Biden is the experienced and empathic leader our country needs right now,” Weingarten said in a statement.
If confirmed by the Senate in 2021, Cardona will likely find himself in the middle of a school reopening fight, according to CNN. Cardona has been a strong advocate of reopening schools and has argued that virtual learning causes children to fall behind on classwork.
Biden has pledged to reopen most of the nation’s schools within the first 100 days of his presidency.
Rep. Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior
Biden chose New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department on Dec. 17. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American to lead a cabinet-level agency.
Haaland’s nomination was almost universally celebrated among Democrats. As Interior Secretary, she would be responsible for not only overseeing approximately 500 million acres of federal land, but would oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which played a central role in the dislocation of Native Americans throughout its history.
She would also be directly involved in carrying out Biden’s energy and climate agenda, including leading the effort to reinstate protections on federal lands that the Trump administration opened up to mining, logging, drilling and construction.
In Congress, Haaland served on the House Natural Resources Committee and has been a forceful advocate for climate change prevention and environmental preservation.
“Our Interior Department will fight to address climate change and environmental injustice,” she said during her speech following Biden’s announcement of her nomination. “We will empower communities who have shouldered the burdens of environmental negligence. And we will ensure that our decisions will once again be driven by science.
Haaland also made history in 2018, when she and Kansas Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids became the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
Biden announced Tom Vilsack as his pick to lead the Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Dec. 9.
Vilsack served in the same position — USDA secretary — for the entirety of former President Barack Obama’s presidency. He has been an adviser on agriculture and rural issues for Biden’s campaign.
Vilsack previously served as governor of Iowa for two terms, according to Ballotpedia. He was also an Iowa state senator and the mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
Biden reportedly picked Vilsack due to his familiarity with the USDA’s structure and organization, Politico reported. His confirmation will also likely be swift and quick because of his experience and lack of scandals when he led the department under Obama.
Vilsack made several achievements while leading the USDA, according to his official department biography. He improved U.S. conservation efforts, was involved with drawing up a trade agreement with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and invested in food assistance programs.
The USDA will reportedly be a major part of Biden’s plan to address economic inequality, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and deteriorating public health infrastructure, according to Politico. Vilsack, who was a strong proponent of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, will lead those efforts if confirmed.
Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
Biden announced he would nominate former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be his energy secretary on Dec. 16.
Granholm, who served as governor from 2002-2010, led Michigan through the Great Recession and oversaw the recovery of the state’s auto industry, working closely with President Barack Obama to craft a bailout for General Motors and Chrysler in 2009.
She championed investments in renewable energy throughout her two terms and has been a vocal advocate for its adoption nationwide since leaving office. She gave a TED Talk in 2011 discussing how investments in clean energy could accelerate states’ economic growth, mirroring what has become a central piece of Biden’s economic recovery plan, and authored an op-ed in November calling for a low-carbon recovery.
Her nomination earned praise from environmental groups, who touted her record as governor and as a proponent of clean energy.
If confirmed by the Senate, Granholm would be just the second woman to lead the department, which oversees a vast range of federal energy initiatives and the United States nuclear weapons complex.
Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Biden picked Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge as his nominee for secretary of housing and urban development on Dec. 8, the Daily Caller reported.
Fudge was elected to Congress in 2008 after serving as Mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, according to The Washington Post.
She will be the first black woman to lead the department if confirmed, the Daily Caller reported. The department is expected to return to an Obama-era push to combat racial segregation in public housing and to handle the eviction crisis caused by COVID-19, according to Politico.
Fudge was chosen after Democratic Rep. James Clyburn criticized the president-elect for not choosing enough black people for cabinet positions, The Hill reported.
Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation
Biden picked former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to be his nominee for secretary of transportation on Dec. 15, the Daily Caller reported.
Buttigieg suspended his presidential campaign to endorse Biden just before Super Tuesday, according to The New York Times.
The 38-year-old former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and former intelligence officer in Afghanistan hosted events and fundraised for the Biden campaign after dropping out of the race, according to the Daily Caller.
Buttigieg was criticized for his work at McKinsey, a global consultancy firm where he reportedly focused on paperwork instead of clientele, according to The Atlantic. He has also been criticized for failing to connect with minority voters, The New York Times reported.
Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Biden picked former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough to be his nominee for secretary of veterans affairs on Dec. 10, the Daily Caller reported.
McDonough served as Obama’s chief of staff from 2013 to 2017, according to the White House archives.
The 51-year-old Minnesota native previously held the position of deputy national security advisor to Obama before he was promoted to chief of staff, according to the archives.
Veterans groups are concerned that he will have trouble building trust within the department since he himself is not a veteran, CNN Politics reported. Veterans reportedly hoped Biden would choose an Afghanistan or Iraq veteran.
Marty Walsh, Secretary of Labor
Biden selected Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to lead the Labor Department on Thursday, Politico reported.
Walsh first joined a labor union, Laborers, Local 223, in 1988 and worked his way up to eventually being elected president of the union in 2005, according to The Boston Globe. In 2011, he was selected to lead the Building Trades Council, which represents 35,000 ironworkers, pipefitters, and other laborers.
Walsh also earned a reputation for using strong-arm tactics to get his way, The Globe reported. Walsh was reportedly wiretapped as part of a federal investigation into union practices when he led the Building Trades Council, according to Boston Magazine.
“Can he raise his voice? Yes. But who can’t?” John J. Moriarty, a contractor who dealt with Walsh on numerous projects, told The Globe. “He would certainly forcefully want you to get to resolution, but I can honestly say I never felt threatened.”
Major unions had come out in support of Biden choosing Walsh to lead the Department of Labor, Bloomberg News reported. American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations President Richard Trumka reportedly reached out to union leaders to rally support for Walsh.
Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce
Biden selected Democratic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to lead the Department of Commerce on Thursday, Politico reported.
Raimondo previously worked as a venture capital at a firm supported by Bain Capital and started a venture firm of her own, according to Politico. In 2011, she entered public service when she was elected to be Rhode Island’s general treasurer.
In 2014, Raimondo successfully ran for governor of Rhode Island, was re-elected in 2018 and in 2019, and led the Democratic Governors Association, Politico reported. Raimondo supported former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed bid for president and served as his campaign’s national co-chair.
Rhode Island was ranked the worst state to start a business in, according to a 2019 Forbes analysis. Raimondo is ranked as the third most unpopular governor in the U.S., according to the latest Morning Consult polling data.
The Rhode Island chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations endorsed Raimondo’s Republican opponent in 2014 due to the pension policy, marking the first time the powerful labor organization endorsed a Republican in 28 years, Vox reported.
“If I did a litmus test with her, I’m not sure she’d pass the test so that I could say, ‘Yup, she’s a Democrat,’” Philip Keefe, president of Service Employees International Union Local 580, said during the 2014 campaign, according to The New York Times.
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Thomas Catenacci, Kaylee Greenlee and Andrew Trunsky are reporters for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.