Last Monday, President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. was formally granted access to post-election resources and services by the General Services Administration, the government agency responsible for facilitating presidential transitions. That same day, the Office of the President-elect named the administration’s first nominees and appointees, with a focus on national security.
With these picks, one can observe that Biden and his team seem to value loyalty, experience and diversity when it comes to filling top positions within the incoming Biden administration. Antony Blinken, nominee for secretary of state, and Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee for secretary of homeland security, both served as deputy secretaries of their respective departments in the Obama-Biden administration. Avril Haines, former Obama-era deputy national security adviser, was appointed to become the first female director of national intelligence. Career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield was nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — furthermore, it was also announced the ambassadorship will be once again elevated to a Cabinet position, reversing a move made by President Trump. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser appointee, served as President-elect Biden’s national security adviser during his tenure as vice president.
Perhaps most unusual choice is that former Senator from Massachusetts and Obama-era Secretary of State John Kerry was appointed as the special presidential envoy for climate. In this capacity, Kerry will be a member of the National Security Council and will possess authority over climate and energy policy.
Nominees and appointees with significant experience in their fields seem to be prioritized to fill spots in the future Biden administration, like Thomas-Greenfield for U.S. ambassador to the UN, who served for 35 years as a career diplomat. All selections thus far have also served in some capacity in the Obama-Biden administration — like former Deputy Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas as well as Kerry, who served as secretary of state from 2013 to 2017. Many picks have worked closely with President-elect Biden for a number of years — and like Mr. Blinken, even decades.
Furthermore, President-elect Biden’s team has emphasized the importance of creating “a Cabinet that looks like America.” A commitment to diversity in gender and racial backgrounds means a number of firsts will be achieved by Biden’s administration: Haines will be the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence, and Mayorkas, if confirmed, would be the first Latino to head the Department of Homeland Security. Bringing a wider variety of voices, backgrounds and experiences together, as Biden’s administration seems to be on track to accomplish, may very well prove worthwhile for the president-elect when dealing with the slew of issues facing the nation as he takes office early next year. For example, during his tenure as deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, Mayorkas headed several initiatives to improve cybersecurity and better regulate immigration — two issues that remain important to many Americans today.
However, President-elect Biden faces significant challenges on a number of fronts as he continues to develop his administration. Within his own party, there has been increasing clamor from the progressive left to pick Cabinet members who are more forward-thinking, less moderate and more willing to make radical change.
In the case of a Republican-controlled Senate — which looks likely, but will be officially determined by the two Senate elections in Georgia in early January — Biden may find it difficult to garner support from the majority party for his picks if they are deemed inherently disagreeable with the broader GOP platform.
In addition, those who ultimately found themselves dissatisfied at the end of the eight-year Obama-Biden administration may raise eyebrows at the possibility of a cabinet dominated by Obama-era officials, fearing President-elect Biden’s administration will simply be an extension of President Obama’s.
I believe that in order to be successful, President-elect Biden must create a diverse cabinet that, while moderate in political nature, is innovative and forward-thinking in practice. While the president-elect has developed a strong relationship with many of his nominees and appointees throughout his political career, I do not think this is necessarily a negative — as a senator, Biden often used his relationships as political leverage to build bipartisan bridges and garner support across the aisle for legislation. As vice president, Biden again utilized his network to have three Senate Republicans vote in favor of the Democrat-led Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. President-elect Biden has utilized his professional network extensively during his near half-century in public service, and will likely continue to do so as he works to fill his administration.
While voters keen on more progressive change may be disappointed with the perceived “moderate” political ideologies of President-elect Biden’s picks, it is important for one to realize that in order to make more progressive, sweeping reform of government institutions, a stable foundation must be put in place. Having a Cabinet that is able to simultaneously appeal to Congress and the American people while creating that stable foundation through well-developed improvements to existing institutions and the creation of new ones is good for the nation as a whole as it moves into the future.
As for whether or not Biden’s presidency will simply be an extension of President Obama’s, the circumstances are different enough and the challenges are unique enough that the difference between these two presidencies will become more apparent over time. President-elect Biden will have to handle the COVID-19 pandemic — which is expected to worsen this winter — as well as a struggling economy, a tense geopolitical situation and a climate in crisis. Succeeding the Trump administration, whose turnover rates were notoriously high, as Brookings reports a 91 percent total turnover rate in top positions throughout Trump’s four-year term. A team that the President-elect can confide in and trust to do what is best for the nation is truly what America needs at this moment.
Ahmed Sultan is a freshman double-majoring in computer science and philosophy, politics and law.