US President-elect Joe Biden took office on Wednesday, starting off with several measures to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, revive the battered economy and reverse many of former president Donald Trump’s controversial policies. FRANCE 24 takes a look at his cabinet nominees.
The 78-year-old Democrat took office a day after the US Covid-19 death toll passed 400,000. Biden has pledged to vaccinate 100 million Americans against Covid-19 in his first 100 days in office and hopes for quick congressional approval of his $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan.
Biden has also vowed to restore US global leadership after four years of former president Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda and reverse many of his predecessor’s controversial policies on climate change and immigration.
FRANCE 24 takes a look at Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s key cabinet picks – the majority of whom await confirmation from the US Senate.
Secretary of State: Antony Blinken
A longstanding Biden aide, Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state during former president Barack Obama’s second term from 2015 to 2017. Prior to that, he was deputy assistant to Obama with responsibility for foreign affairs and national security adviser to then vice president Biden from 2009 to 2013.
Blinken was also staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then headed by Biden, from 2002 to 2008, and was a member of Bill Clinton’s National Security Council from 1994 to 1998.
Blinken’s father and uncle both served as US ambassadors. He spent much of his childhood in Paris and speaks fluent French.
White House Chief of Staff: Ron Klain
Klain, 59, has served as a key aide to Biden since the 1980s, first in the Senate, and later during the first two years of his vice presidency from 2009 to 2011. He fell out with Biden briefly in 2015 by choosing to support Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid while Biden was still hoping to win his party’s nomination.
A former lawyer and veteran political insider, Klain also worked as former vice president Al Gore’s chief of staff from 1995 to 1999.
Klain served as former president Barack Obama’s “Ebola Tsar” for a short period in 2014 and has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As White House chief of staff, Klain will serve as gatekeeper to the Oval Office, managing the president’s daily schedule and the White House staff. His role does not require confirmation by the Senate.
Treasury Secretary: Janet Yellen
Yellen, 74, is one of Biden’s most experienced cabinet picks. In 2014 she became the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, a role she held until 2018. Trump did not appoint her to a second term.
Prior to that, she was vice-chair at the bank from 2010-2014 and president of the San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve from 2004 to 2010. From 1997 to 1999 she chaired former president Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and from 1994 to 1997 she sat on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.
She is professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.
National Security Adviser: Jake Sullivan
Sullivan, 44, is seen as particularly close to Hillary Clinton, having been her chief foreign policy adviser during her 2016 presidential campaign.
He was director of policy planning at the State Department and Clinton’s deputy chief of staff during her 2009-2013 tenure at the State Department.
When Clinton stood down as secretary of state at the end of Obama’s first term, Sullivan became national security adviser to then vice president Biden.
He was previously director of policy planning at the State Department.
Attorney General: Merrick Garland
Garland, 68, has been a federal appeals court judge since 1997. In 2016 Obama nominated him to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court after the death of former Justice Antonin Scalia. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked his nomination by declining to consider his appointment in a presidential election year.
Garland is viewed as a moderate in the US jurisprudential divide between originalists such as former Justice Scalia and exponents of the living constitution theory such as the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
He is currently the Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Washington, DC Circuit.
Defence Secretary: Lloyd Austin
Austin, 67, is a retired four-star general who served as the head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) – the all-important military command encompassing the Middle East – from 2013 to 2016, after serving as the army’s vice-chief of staff from 2012 to 2013.
Austin would need a waiver from a provision of the 1947 National Security Act decreeing that former military members must wait seven years before being appointed defence secretary – a clause designed to keep politics and the military separate. However, a precedent for this was set when Trump appointed former general James Mattis to the Pentagon in 2016, three years after Mattis stepped down as head of CENTCOM.
Ambassador to the UN: Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Thomas-Greenfield, 69, was Obama’s chief diplomat on Africa between 2013 and 2017, playing a major role in the US response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.
This followed decades of experience in foreign affairs. She joined the Foreign Service in 1982, holding postings in countries including Switzerland, Nigeria, Kenya and Pakistan and serving as ambassador to Liberia from 2008-2012.
CIA Director: William Burns
A veteran diplomat, Burns, 64, preceded Blinken as Obama’s deputy secretary of state from 2011 to 2014. This was the culmination of Burns’ 33-year career in US diplomacy, with senior roles under both Republican and Democratic presidents.
Burns was ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs from 2001 to 2005, and ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001.
Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines
Haines, 51, was deputy national security adviser during the last two years of Obama’s tenure, from 2015 to 2017.
Previously she was deputy director of the CIA from 2013 and 2015, the first woman to hold this position, after three years as deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs.
Before entering politics, Haines worked as a lawyer in Washington.
White House Domestic Policy Council Director: Susan Rice
Rice, 56, is one of Biden’s most high-profile cabinet picks. She served as national security adviser throughout Obama’s second term, from 2013-2017, and ambassador to the UN in the first, from 2009-2013.
Rice’s foreign policy experience dates back to the Clinton administration, in which she was assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1997 to 2001.
Prior to that, she worked as a management consultant at McKinsey and as an aide to the unsuccessful 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
Office of Management and Budget Director: Neera Tanden
Since 2011, Tanden has been president of the Center for American Progress, the liberal American think tank she helped found in 2003.
As assistant to Obama’s then secretary of health and human services Kathleen Sibelius, Tanden played a major role in the development of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which became law in 2010.
Tanden was Hillary Clinton’s policy director in her unsuccessful 2008 run for the Democratic nomination.
Secretary of Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas
Mayorkas was deputy secretary of homeland security under Obama from 2013 to 2016, preceded by another senior role in the department as director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009 to 2013.
Before that, Mayorkas became the youngest United States Attorney in 1998, working in this prosecutorial role with responsibility for California’s Central District until 2001.
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Xavier Becerra
Becerra has been attorney general of the largest US state, California, since 2017, the latest in a string of powerful roles in the Democratic Party.
He was a Congressman representing a central Los Angeles seat from 1993 to 2017, taking the role of chairman of the House Democratic Caucus from 2013 to 2017. Becerra was also assistant to House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi from 2007 to 2009.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Marcia Fudge
Fudge has been a Congresswoman representing Ohio’s 11th district – which includes much of the city of Cleveland – since 2008. She was mayor of Warrensville Heights, a city in the Cleveland suburbs, from 2000 to 2008.
During her time in the House of Representatives, Fudge was head of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2013 to 2015.
Secretary of Commerce: Gina Raimondo
Raimondo has served as the Democratic governor of Rhode Island since 2015, following a career as a venture capitalist.
Secretary of Labour: Marty Walsh
Walsh has been mayor of Boston since 2014, following his tenure in the Massachusetts House of Representatives starting in 1997.
Secretary of Transportation: Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg was mayor of the city of South Bend, Indiana from 2012 to 2020. After an unsuccessful attempt to become chairman of the Democratic National Convention in 2017, he launched a 2020 presidential campaign.
Buttigieg won a narrow victory over the then frontrunner, leftist Senator Bernie Sanders, in the Iowa caucus. He came in second to Sanders in the New Hampshire primary.
Biden was humiliated in Iowa and New Hampshire, coming in fourth. But he staged a remarkable comeback with a resounding victory in South Carolina – supplanting Buttigieg as the frontrunner of the moderates. After that result, Buttigieg dropped out and backed Biden.
Secretary of Education: Miguel Cardona
Cardona has been Connecticut’s education commissioner since 2019 after a career as a primary school teacher – allowing Biden to fulfil his goal of putting a former teacher in charge of the department.
Secretary of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack
The nominations of figures like Blinken, Sullivan and Rice show Biden’s desire to create some continuity with the Obama years. Vilsack’s nomination is even more emblematic of this link: he was secretary of agriculture during the entirety of Obama’s tenure – the only one of his cabinet appointees to stay in office for the whole eight years.
Before that, Vilsack was governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007.
Secretary of the Interior: Deb Haaland
Haaland has been a Congresswoman representing New Mexico’s 1st district – which encompasses most of Albuquerque and its suburbs – since 2019. She was head of the New Mexico Democratic Party between 2015 and 2017, after her tenure as head of the state party’s Native American Caucus from 2012 to 2013, preceded by a career as a businesswoman.
The US Department of the Interior is responsible for the management of land owned by the federal government and tribal affairs including reservations and historical preservation.
Secretary of Energy: Jennifer Granholm
Granholm was governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011 – including notable work alongside Biden in coordinating the bailout of Detroit car manufacturers when the Great Recession hit.
Secretary of Veteran Affairs: Denis McDonough
McDonough preceded Blinken as deputy national security adviser from 2010 to 2013. He was then Obama’s chief of staff for the entirety of the then president’s second term.
McDonough is seen as especially close to Obama. Famously, it was after a walk and one-on-one discussion with McDonough on the South Lawn of the White House that – weary of Middle Eastern military entanglements – Obama changed his mind and declined to attack Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces after their use of chemical weapons in 2013.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director: Rochelle Walensky
An expert on HIV/AIDS, Walensky is head of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Coronavirus Response Coordinator: Jeff Zients
Zients will take responsibility for Biden’s plan to deliver 100 million Covid-19 jabs during his first 100 days – a pressing task seeing as the US has lagged behind other developing nations, notably Israel and the UK, in vaccinating its citizens.
Zients was director of the National Economic Council under Obama from 2014 to 2017, as well as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget from 2012 to 2013, after three years as its deputy director.
He was the boss of investment firms both before and after his time in the Obama White House. Zients has also been on Facebook’s board of directors since 2018.
National Economic Council Director: Brian Deese
Deese is yet another Obama White House veteran. He was a senior adviser to the then president from 2015 to 2017 after two years as deputy director of the office of management and budget director.
Deese joined the Obama administration after serving on Clinton’s 2008 campaign team, as economic policy director. Before that he was a researcher at think tanks the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Global Development and the Center for American Progress.
Special Presidential Climate Envoy: John Kerry
Kerry is best known for his 2004 presidential campaign, in which he won the Democratic nomination but lost the election to George W. Bush.
He also succeeded Hillary Clinton as Obama’s secretary of state, in charge of US foreign policy from 2013 to 2017, playing a notable role in developing the Paris climate change agreement signed in 2015. This followed a long career in the Senate, representing his home state of Massachusetts from 1985-2013.
Kerry specialised in foreign affairs during his time in the US upper chamber, as a longstanding member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its chairman from 2009 to 2013.
Head of the Environmental Protection Agency: Michael Regan
Regan has been head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality since 2017, after eight years in a senior role at green NGO the Environmental Defense Fund.
Prior to that, Regan was an official at the Environmental Protection Agency for a decade, having joined in 1998.