The New Administration: President Biden’s Nominees for Cabinet-level Positions

With the attack on the Capitol Building on January 6th and the subsequent inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden, the focus of the media understandably shifted from Biden’s administration to the turmoil of the Trump administration. Cabinet member resignations and Trump’s second impeachment exemplify the institutional chaos consistent with the last four years of the Trump administration. In spite of this disarray, President Biden has begun governing immediately within his first 100 days of office, looking to have the “most diverse Cabinet” in history confirmed. This cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris, 15 department heads, and 9 Cabinet-level officials. Department heads include positions such as Secretary of Agriculture and Attorney General, while cabinet-level positions hold a similar level of importance to the particular administration but do not necessarily run their own department. This article will analyze Biden’s nominees for the 9 Cabinet-level positions. 

Cabinet-level Officials with No Senate Approval Needed:

White House Chief of Staff: Ron Klain

The White House Chief of Staff traditionally supervises all employees, directs policy negotiations, advises the president, and controls the flow of information and people to the Oval Office. Ron Klain’s experience matches the intensity of the job of serving as the “President’s Gatekeeper” during this tumultuous time – a veteran political operative for the Democratic Party, government official leading the White House response to Ebola, and a former Chief of Staff to Joe Biden during his Vice Presidency. Klain had previously written speeches for Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign and served as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee during Biden’s chairmanship. Klain later worked on Bill Clinton’s campaign and served in his administration, leading the team that confirmed the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He then worked as the Chief of Staff for Janet Reno and then Vice President Al Gore. After working on the Gore, Clark, and Kerry presidential campaigns, Klain was appointed as the Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden. President Obama later appointed Klain as the White House Ebola Response Coordinator “extensive management experience”. Klain’s experience offers the Biden administration the unique strength of coordinating the bureaucracy of government agencies with the adjusting recommendations of physicians and researchers amidst the pandemic and vaccine distribution.

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate: John Kerry

For the first time in the history of the National Security Council, there will be an official whose responsibilities solely focus on the threat of climate change. The formal climate “czar” will oversee the recommitment of the United States to the Paris Climate Accords, advise the president on issues related to national security and foreign affairs, surveil the effects of extreme climate conditions, and work with domestic and international leaders to mitigate the effects of climate change. President Biden announced the creation of this position as a cabinet-level post while appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry to serve. A decorated Vietnam War veteran, Kerry became an outspoken advocate against the war and later served nearly thirty years as a US Senator from Massachusetts and the Democratic nominee for president in 2004. Upon Biden’s ascension to Vice President, Kerry succeeded him as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before leaving to serve as Secretary of State for most of President Obama’s second term in office. Kerry’s extensive experience in national security, diplomacy, environmentalism, and the Senate could make him a very suitable choice for this position. His time leading the State Department includes his successful negotiation of the Kigali Amendment – which limits the production of hydrofluorocarbons – to the Montreal Protocol, his climate-focused chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and his leadership as the main negotiator for the Paris Climate Agreement. The new position offers a focus on the wide array of climate issues and John Kerry brings the foreign and domestic credibility to lead international discussions addressing these problems.  

Cabinet-level Officials Subject to Senate Approval:

Trade Representative: Katherine Tai

Tasked with advising the president on, negotiating, and domestically coordinating trade policy, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) oversees a government agency of the same name while handling immense responsibilities that affect the global economy. Katherine Tai, if confirmed, will be the first Asian American and first woman of color to hold this position. A Yale-China Fellow, Tai worked in international trade litigation in the private sector before joining the USTR’s Office of the General Counsel, eventually rising to Chief Counsel for China Trade Enforcement where she litigated US disputes against China in the World Trade Organization. After working as trade counsel for the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means, she was promoted to lead advisor for the Democratic members for international trade. Tai’s nomination impressed many in both chambers of Congress. Congresswoman Judy Chu – the chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus – praised Biden’s choice along with several other representatives, citing Tai’s extensive experience in diplomacy and trade and her success in trade negotiations with China, Canada, and Mexico. Tai offers a strong record for labor rights in international trade and her work for the House Democrats during the US-China Trade War exemplify her expertise in negotiations. President Biden promises to ease tensions with China while still remaining tough on the trade adversary, and Katherine Tai seems a good candidate to pursue this balance and accomplish many of Biden’s trade goals and policy proposals, which include increasing domestic manufacturing, protecting intellectual property, rallying allies to reduce trade violations, preventing outsourcing, defending labor organizing and prioritizing climate protection in trade. 

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 sought to minimize issues of limited interagency intelligence sharing following the September 11th Attacks. The law created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence who serves as the head of the 16 agency Intelligence Community and the chief intelligence advisor in the National Security Council. Avril Haines, nominated by President Biden to serve as the next Director of National Intelligence, would become the first woman to hold this position if confirmed. Haines worked as a lawyer handling international treaties for the State Department and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (which was chaired by then-Senator Joe Biden) before serving as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Deputy National Security Advisor under President Obama. Following the Obama administration, Haines worked in academia and the private sector while serving as a member of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Her confirmation may see problems from both the left and right. Main controversies during her time in government service include her support for the drone program and her approval of a review board decision to not punish CIA personnel who interfered in a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the use of torture. Her private sector work with WestExec Advisors – the consulting firm founded by Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken – also raises questions, especially due to her disclosure of their work with Palantir Technologies, which partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to aid in deportations. It is expected that her Senate confirmation hearings will bring strong attention to these controversies and give her an opportunity to explain her role in them. Fortunately for the Biden administration, many of Haines’ former coworkers firmly support her and praise her nomination to the position. Her potential confirmation problems notwithstanding, Haines’ extensive experience in national intelligence and working with Biden could make her an effective advisor.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget: Neera Tanden

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is central to the president’s administration, developing the president’s budget and managing Executive Branch agencies to ensure programs, communications to Congress, and regulations comply with the president’s policies. The position is very powerful and requires a trusted advisor with experience in negotiating with Congress and strong management skills to oversee the large bureaucracy. The last four presidents have promoted their OMB director to the position of Chief of Staff, and people in this position have often gone on to hold cabinet positions or become elected officials. President Biden has chosen Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress (CAP) – a liberal think tank and advocacy organization. Raised by a single immigrant Indian mother on food stamps and a graduate of Yale Law School, Neera Tanden is often cited as one of the most powerful women in politics. In addition to serving in various roles in CAP since its founding in 2003, Tanden has served as a policy advisor for both the Clinton and Obama presidencies and for then-Senator Hillary Clinton. She was also a top campaign policy director for the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. While serving as a healthcare policy advisor during the Obama presidency, Tanden is credited for helping draft the Affordable Care Act and its subsequently dropped “public option” plan. Tanden’s impressive experience in legislation and policy could make her an effective director of OMB, and she would be the first woman of color and person of South Asian descent to serve in this role. However, she is considered as one of the more controversial Biden nominees. GOP lawmakers have cited issues with her outspoken criticism of members of both parties on Twitter, but following the Georgia runoff, these confirmation problems could become less of a problem. Many Democrats such as Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren defended Tanden. Her nomination could raise a problem with Bernie Sanders, who has not commented himself yet, although his supporters have outspokenly criticized her nomination, regarding her as a “Clinton Loyalist. Tanden has a complicated history with some of his supporters, specifically a physical altercation with a ThinkProgress editor in 2008 asking Hillary Clinton about her Iraq War vote while she worked on her campaign. The editor, Faiz Shakir, served as Senator Sanders’ campaign manager for his 2020 presidential election bid. Further controversy arose when a New York Times reporter brought Tanden’s 78-year-old mom into the fight between her and some Sanders’ supporters, interviewing her and publishing quotes about her daughter’s “aggressiveness” and criticism of Bernie Sanders supporters. This NYT story was heavily criticized for taking advantage of Tanden’s mom. It is unclear how much of an actual issue this may cause for Tanden and the Biden administration. Putting the politics of her nomination aside, Neera Tanden brings years of experience in handling policy work and advocacy to the table. 

Administrator of the Small Business Administration: Isabel Casillas Guzman

The Small Business Association (SBA) is dedicated to providing “counsel, capital, and contracting expertise” to small business owners nationwide, utilizing offices in every state. The agency’s initiatives include training entrepreneurs, offering microloans, managing debt, delivering nearly a quarter of prime federal contracts to small businesses, organizing equity investment, and assessing the effects of regulation on small businesses. President Biden nominated Isabel Casillas Guzman to this position, a Wharton graduate with an extensive career in helping small businesses. After serving as the director of strategic initiatives at ProAmerica Bank – a commercial entity focused on serving small and mid size businesses, Guzman went on to become a deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to the SBA during the Obama administration. Upon the end of the administration, Guzman went on to help start GovContractPros, a consulting firm dedicated to helping small businesses access federal prime and sub-contracts. For nearly the last two years, Guzman has served California as the Director of the Office of the Small Business Advocate in the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Guzman’s substantial experience in aiding small businesses in private sector and public sector capacities, including the SBA itself, makes her an incredibly qualified nominee for this cabinet position. 

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: Michael S. Regan

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting human health through the environment – ensuring clean air, land, and water and administering environmental protection laws. Administrators for the EPA during the Trump administration both had ties to the fossil fuel industry and were ironically hostile to environmental regulatory efforts. His first administrator, Scott Pruitt, resigned due to government accountability scandals and his successor, Andrew Wheeler, was a former lobbyist for the coal industry. The Biden administration will struggle to reform the EPA from the previous administration and has chosen Michael Regan, an experienced environmental regulator, for this position. A North Carolina native, Regan began his career working with the EPA, eventually becoming a national program manager tasked with pollution reduction, market solutions for energy efficiency, air quality improvement, and mitigating climate-related issues. After leaving the federal government, Regan joined the Environmental Defense Fund, eventually leading the nonprofit’s efforts at climate change mitigation and air pollution reduction. Regan founded an environmental consulting firm and served on several environment-focused boards and commissions throughout North Carolina before Governor Roy Cooper named Regan as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department  of Environmental Quality. In addition to launching an Environmental Justice and Equity Board and other successes in negotiating environmental initiatives, Regan saved five billion taxpayer dollars by securing Duke Energy Corporation’s settlement, resulting in the corporation having to clean 80 million tons of coal-ash contamination throughout the state. This is the largest coal-ash contamination cleanup in US history. Regan’s lengthy and successful career in fighting environmental racism, reducing environmental degradation, and working with businesses to secure market solutions to climate change can make him a very good EPA administrator tasked with reinstituting and furthering environmental regulations in the US. With service in a similar executive position in North Carolina and experience in the EPA itself, Regan is very qualified for the position. If confirmed, Regan would become the first Black man to run the agency.

The following two positions were not cabinet-level positions under President Trump but will be elevated during Biden’s presidency.

Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers: Cecilia Rouse

Similar to the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers is also an agency within the Executive Office of the President and is responsible for gathering and analyzing economic information and trends to formulate objective advice on domestic and international economic policy. Confirmed by the Senate, the chair leads the group of presidentially-appointed economists – who are often academics or temporarily assigned from other agencies. President Biden has nominated Cecilia Rouse to this position, making her one of the main economic advisors for the administration. A Harvard-educated economist, Rouse is the Dean of Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. Having previously served in President Clinton’s National Economic Council and as a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers throughout the Great Recession, Rouse’s experience covers both academia and government service. Her research primarily focuses on education and labor economics, often studying racial and gender discrimination in employment and the effects of unemployment. Rouse’s research, along with her experience in the Council of Economic Advisers, brings unique expertise to the position amidst an economy devastated by the pandemic. If confirmed, Rouse would become the first Black person and fourth woman to chair the Council. 

Ambassador to the United Nations: Linda Thomas-Greenfield

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations represents the nation’s interests to the intergovernmental organization and is led by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN. The Ambassador to the United Nations was first raised to a cabinet rank under President Eisenhower and maintained this rank under every president except for H.W. Bush, Bush, and Trump (following the departure of Nikki Haley). Biden will elevate the role back to a cabinet-level rank and will nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat. Serving 35 years with the U.S. Foreign Service, Thomas-Greenfield held the titles of Ambassador to Liberia (nominated by President Bush), Director General of the Foreign Service, and most recently, the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs during the Obama and Trump administration. Prior to this, she also held positions throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America. She was terminated from her final position by President Trump as a part of his “purge” of senior State Department officials. Thomas-Greenfield took leave as a Senior Vice President at Albright Stonebridge Group to help the Biden transition team restore the 1,500 Foreign Service and civil service jobs lost under President Trump. Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination to a cabinet-level diplomat position is a strong move by President Biden to rebuild the crumbling State Department disrupted by the Trump presidency. Her lengthy and impressive experience as a career diplomat during many different presidents exemplifies her skills in negotiating and government service, making her a qualified choice for the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Note: The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency was elevated to a cabinet-level status under President Trump but will not be considered part of the cabinet in Biden’s administration. The Director of National Intelligence instead serves as the principal intelligence member in the cabinet. President Joe Biden has nominated Ambassador William Burns to this position.

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