- President Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections have been making their way through Senate confirmations.
- With only 1 nominee withdrawing their name, 18 individuals have already been approved and 4 are waiting in line to be confirmed.
- This Administration’s Cabinet, if all approved, will be the most diverse in U.S. history.
- Cabinet members, which are the Secretaries and heads of executive-branch departments and agencies, are responsible for the administration of policies, answering to Congress, and serving as agenda setters for the President.
President of the United States, Joe Biden, is facing mounting crises within his first 100 days. Being sworn into office on January 20th, the 46th President has prioritized the novel coronavirus (aka COVID-19) pandemic, as well as tackling the economic burden the nation faces due to lockdown measures that halted many sectors of the U.S. economy, on top of other domestic and global issues, i.e., climate change and international alliances.
Yet, while policies have been hashed out and voted on in Congress recently, mainly with the American Rescue Plan passage, many are watching who is being assembled and confirmed as the President’s Cabinet.
This administration’s cabinet seems to be as historical as the President and Vice-President’s inauguration back in January. Diversity seems to be one of the most significant factors in the selections, and following confirmations, many firsts are being recognized. Just recently, as of Monday of this week, Debra Haaland, a now-former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Department, making her the first Native American to serve as a cabinet Secretary and second to ever serve in the cabinet after Vice President Charles Curtis (V.P. under Pres. Hoover).
As a “first,” is a former mayor and Presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, who was confirmed 86 to 13 back at the beginning of February. Mr. Buttigieg is the first openly gay Cabinet secretary and is now the Secretary of Transporation.
Secretary of Homeland Security is also headed by the first Latino Secretary of the department’s 18-year history. Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas helped the administration and implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation and other immigration policies under the Obama Administration. He is now tasked with overseeing a flood of immigration from South and Central America while also what many consider a humanitarian crisis along the nation’s southern border.
The new Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, was a somewhat controversial pick due to the former four-star general not reaching the seven-year mark after leaving the U.S. Armed Forces. However, being confirmed 93-2, he became the first Black Secretary of Defense.
Avril Haines, one of the first people confirmed to the President’s Cabinet, is now serving as the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. intelligence community and the first female Director of National Intelligence.
As Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve Chair, has become the first woman to hold the office since its creation in 1789 and led by none other than Alexander Hamilton.
Finally, nominated as Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine made history as the first openly transgender nominee, and if confirmed, would become the first trans Cabinet-level official.
Diversity is Key
Out of all those appointed and confirmed by the Senate, the 46th President’s Cabinet holds only nine men thus far versus the ten women (including Vice President Harris). The Hill writes that “…those who have been confirmed underscore Biden’s commitment to diversity. In the 15 departments in the line of succession, nearly half of Biden’s appointees are women.”
In December, the Hill writes that the transition had put out a release of incoming White House appointees. Of those 100, “61% women, 54% people of color, 11% LGBTQ, and nearly 20% first-generation Americans.”
Experience Matters (mostly)
Of Biden’s cabinet selections, experience plays an important role. Typically, cabinet appointees tend to go to political donors or prominent names within national politics. Yet, President Biden has not gone the direct route. Many of the people nominated or now confirmed are not household names like Senators Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. Take, for instance, the new Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. According to Politico, Mr. Cardona’s background is in public education, where he served as the Connecticut Education Commissioner and worked his way up through the public school system.
This is not a bad thing, though. Many, especially centrists, wanted the President and White House to select qualified individuals, even if they weren’t well known across America. And yet, some ARE well-known figures and respected within the departments they now, or will, lead. Merrick Garland is a prime example. Yes, THAT Merrick Garland, the former Supreme Court nominee and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, is the new Attorney General. His reputation for fairness and centrism is widely respected.
Janet Yellen, now Secretary of the Treasury, worked as the Federal Reserve head and is widely respected by economists and political scientists.
Anthony Blinken, the new Secretary of State, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the U.N., both have foreign affairs experience and are respected by U.S. diplomats across the field.
Yet, the White House chose Pete Buttiegeg, a simple mayor from Indiana. He is not one with much experience in transportation. However, Secretary Pete was the head of an executive branch as mayor, and his experience could be valuable in leading the US DOT and its 55,000 employees.
Cabinets are Essential
Presidential Cabinets are crucial to agenda-setting from the White House and public administrative decisions that impact the lives of all of us. Cabinet secretaries and appointees are advisors to the President and key players in implementing and maintaining policy programs.
The bureaucracy, or the executive branch’s combined mechanism, is essential to the public as well. The federal government employs over 4 million people, and Congress’s legislative policies aren’t the easiest to understand if you haven’t studied law, political science, public policy, public administration, or the like. These leaders not only ensure that public programs are funded and smoothly run, but they ensure that they are maintained, updated, and reported to the President.
Jonathan Solomon holds an Associate in Arts from Trident Technical College where he studied political science, philosophy, and economics, he is now finishing up his BA in Political Science with a concentration in politics, philosophy, and law from the College of Charleston. He self-identifies as a pragmatist wanting to help educate and create policies and public administrative practices that benefit all people, regardless of political differences.