Unpacking Biden’s top cabinet nominees

Unpacking Bidens top cabinet nominees

Isabel Wilder

During these difficult first two months of 2021, there has been an outcry of both fear and hopefulness for what’s to come. Amid all the present uncertainty, one thing is clear; Joe Biden has taken the wheel. But Biden will not lead alone. In order to predict some of his coming policies, it’s important to take a look at his cabinet, the body of advisers he’s appointed which includes different heads of the departments of the government. These departments range from the president’s chief of staff to the head of Housing and Urban Development and others which oversee the country on a federal level.

Chief of Staff: Ron Klain. The chief of staff works behind the scenes, solving disputes, overseeing other departments, as well as being the closest adviser to the president. The chief of staff also handles many issues before it’s passed to the president. Klain had been the former chief of staff to both Biden and Al Gore when they were vice presidents. He advised Biden on his presidential campaigns in both 1988 and 2008, and was hailed the “Czar” for handling the Ebola epidemic during former President Obama’s administration, something that likely helped him secure this nomination, which hints that he will likely take charge on issues related to Covid-19.

Secretary of the Treasury: Janet Yellen, who will become the first woman to hold this position. She is respected by both parties, as she was confirmed with bipartisan support as a Federal chairwoman in 2014 and as vice chairwoman in 2010. She was labeled “an economist at the forefront of policy-making,” serving as chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration in the 1990s. One advantage to having her in the position is that she is experienced, and knows the effects of withdrawing government stimulus checks before planned, a branch of expertise needed now. Ms. Yellen is someone who would work with the federal and executive-branch agencies to gain votes if Congress is hesitant on passing certain actions or policies. 

Secretary of State: Antony Blinken. He was deputy Secretary of State and deputy National Security Adviser during the Obama administration, and has worked with Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Some of his policies include pushing for more U.S. involvement in the Syria conflict, and, contrary to Biden, supported the armed intervention in Libya. He also supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. We can expect to see actions that resemble his beliefs that diplomacy should be “supplemented by deterrence” and “force can be a necessary adjunct to effective diplomacy.” According to The Associated Press, Blinken will start his term by mending relationships between the US and foreign governments and allies. 

Secretary of Defense: Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin. He will be the first Black person to lead the Pentagon, continuing his “firsts” – from him being the first black general and now leading a division in fighting and overseeing a theater of operations. Mr. Austin has an opposing view to Mr. Blinken on foreign affairs, something that will be interesting to watch play out. He instead nurses an opposition to America’s Middle East interventions, and a belief in diplomacy rather than interceding. However, he is also head of Raytheon: a huge, weapon making company, and is a partner in a military supplier investment firm. Raytheon has sold billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Middle East to fight a war in Yemen, and though Austin is supposedly against intervention, he profits from its existence, calling a conflict of interest into play. There was also an issue of confirmation in that Mr. Austin hasn’t been away from the military long enough to technically have the job, but he was confirmed in a 97-3 vote on January 22.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Marcia Fudge. This appointment has raised some important questions about the tokenization of people of color- if some are in the cabinet for diversity over qualification. Ms. Fudge has not been in housing court for anyone, never “managed a shelter for the unhoused, administered disaster relief grants, … or published research on housing market conditions. She does not appear to have ever filed suit to enforce the civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in housing, though she did once work for a county prosecutor,” according to The Intercept. Despite her work as mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, many people don’t believe that she is qualified – possibly herself included- as she even expressed interest in leading the US Department of Agriculture, which “oversees food assistance programs as well as traditional farm support programs, not HUD. As New Yorkers, housing and infrastructure is an essential yet deeply flawed part of the city, and it seems like only someone with experience can make concrete changes on a federal level. There is hope, however, in that Ms. Fudge has inspiring ideals of affordable housing and urban revitalization, as was realized through her previous representation for Ohio’s 11th congressional district.   

Secretary of Transportation: Pete Buttigeg. He is the first openly LGBTQ+ person to be nominated for a cabinet position. Transit is yet another important issue facing many cities like New York and the country as a whole, as federal funding may be needed to fix the MTA and other city infrastructures in need of revitalization. This may also be a chance for much-needed eco-friendly transportation infrastructure, as transit is a huge source of greenhouse gas emission and one culprit for our rapidly increasing Co2 emission levels. Buttigieg’s nomination is another controversial one, as despite Buttigeg being the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, he hasn’t had much experience with transportation in the past- and the budget he oversees jumping from only 10 million dollars to 85 billion dollars, which is a large jump for him to make. Biden, however, seems optimistic, and if he follows through on his campaign promise of “[creating] millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure,” we should expect to see Buttigeg stepping into the limelight.   

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate: John Kerry. This is a newly created post that’s part of the National Security Council, where one advises the president directly on climate-related issues. Kerry was an instrumental player in the creation of the Paris climate accord, and was the former Secretary of State under Obama. Key democratic leaders agree that he cares deeply about the international climate emergency, and most are optimistic for concrete change within the next few years. Gina Mccarthy was also appointed National Climate Advisor alongside him, and commands over the domestic side of climate issues where Kerry deals with the global side. Though he is not considered a radical environmentalist, these are first steps that will be taken towards achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

Secretary of Education: Miguel Cardona. He was the education commissioner of Connecticut for over a year until appointed, and a principal for ten years. Though tasked to fix a crumbling education system during a global pandemic, Cardona seems assured. His main goal is to open schools as quickly and safely as possible, with changes to standardized tests, debt relief, and decreasing disparities within education also on his agenda. Both him and Biden have been signaling potential funding increases within the next four years.   

Conclusion: Biden’s cabinet is diverse and qualified, promising a fruitful next term and steps towards a more equitable, peaceful, and eco-conscious world. 

Though many people ‘settled’ for Biden once more progressive candidates dropped out, they agree that smaller change in the direction those on the left want is better than none at all. 

Isannah Marley, an iSchool junior weighs in. “I wanted Bernie to win.,” she said. She added that she wants the next president to have a more progressive agenda, but acknowledges that “the fact that [Democrats] flipped the Senate makes me hopeful that some progressive legislation will pass.” 

Ms. Strassler, an iSchool administrator, agrees with this; but has a sage message for Biden’s new cabinet. “I think they all need constant reminders that the public cares about what they do for ALL instead of just serving those who already have power and access to decision makers.”