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‘The Most Diverse Cabinet in History’… But is that enough?

‘The Most Diverse Cabinet in History’… But is that enough?

Biden has been praised for his diverse cabinet, but why have these people been chosen? Is it a debt being paid, an appointment due to their relationship, pleasing factions in his party, or choosing the best person for the job? We will look at the top cabinet positions in order of who would succeed the President, excluding the Vice President and non-cabinet positions. However, the real question is… Will they make it past the Senate?

Secretary of State – Antony Blinken

Who is Antony Blinken?

  • Age: 58
  • State: New York

Previous Jobs:

  • National Security Advisor to the Vice President of the United States 2009-2013.
  • Deputy National Security Advisor 2013-2015.
  • Deputy Secretary of State 2015-2017.
  • Managing Partner at consulting firm Westexec Advisors 2017-2020.
L. Anthony Blinken
Illustration by Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of State?

To lead America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance by advancing the interests of the American people, their safety and economic prosperity’

Having previously worked under Biden as the National Security Advisor to the VP (2009-2013), he would later work in the White House as Deputy Security Advisor and Deputy Secretary of State; highlighting his experience and potential relationship with Biden.

In his first statement after Joe Biden announced his nomination:

He would call Biden his “mentor and friend” and that it would be “his greatest privilege of [his] professional life”, to serve with Biden again. He related the importance of America to the world through his family’s life experiences and how vital America was in changing the world and providing his immigrant family a place to live. He has highlighted the importance of “humility and confidence”’. Humility due to the US needing to work with their allies to solve the world’s problems and confidence in America having a “greater ability than any other country on earth” to bring others together.

This appointment is one that suggest similarities to Obama’s more conciliatory outlook on world politics rather than Trump’s “America First” policies. Blinken is pro conciliation and the transatlantic alliance. His more conciliatory outlook was highlighted when asked about the US’ relationship with India, Blinken said “strengthening and deepening the relationship with India is going to be a very high priority” for the Biden Administration. Blinken has often felt comfortable speaking on behalf of  the Biden administration, likely due to his closeness to Biden. As a former State Department official has commented “it’s difficult to know where one person’s policy vision ends and the other’s begins” in relation to Biden and Blinken.

Blinken is likely to be successfully elected to Secretary of State due to his strong record at being elected to previous cabinet positions and the lack of opposition against him.


Secretary of Treasury – Janet Yellen

Who is Janet Yellen?

  • Age: 74
  • State: California

Previous Jobs:

  • Chair of the Economic Policy Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 1997-1999.
  • President and Chief Executive officer of Federal Bank of San Francisco 2004-10.
  • Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System 2010-2018, Vice Chair and Chair.
L. Janet Yellen
Illustration by Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Treasury?

‘Maintain a strong economy, creating opportunities by promoting conditions that enable growth and stability, strengthen national security by combating threats, protecting the financial system, and managing the US Government’s finances and resources effectively.’

Yellen seems to be a more practical appointment. She has a vast experience in economics, graduating from Brown University with an economics degree in 1967, and would later become the President and Chief Executive officer of the Federal Bank of San Francisco (2004-10). She will become the first women Treasury Secretary and in her first statement after Joe Biden announced her nomination, she listed her priorities when she took office:

She would deal with the “inequality, stagnant wages… racial disparities and pay, job opportunities, housing, […] small business lending [and] gender disparities” when Secretary, as these factors “keep our economy from running at full force”.

On the problem of unemployment caused by COVID she called it “an American tragedy”, going on to explain, “I became an economist because I was concerned about the toll of unemployment on people, families and communities”.

Yellen is a centre-left economist who has “focused mainly on imperfections in labour markets and how unemployment can arise”. America is currently in a period of economic turmoil with unemployment having peaked at 14.7% in April 2020 (dropping down to 6.7% this December), in which the primary cause has been due to the temporary or permanent layoff of 3.2 and 3.6 million people respectively, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yellen seems to be generally popular choice within the Democrat party, with CNN reporting that She seems to be popular in all factions, from the financial markets to Main Street. This bipartisan support was highlighted by the National Economic Council director (who was chosen by Trump), in which he would voice that she was, “an excellent choice… I have no doubt she will be the steady hand we need to promote an economy that works for everyone, especially during these difficult times”

She is extremely likely to be successfully elected to the position of the head of the Treasury due to both her bi-partisan support and in having the knowledge and experience required to make her an acceptable choice for the Senate.


Secretary of Defense – Lloyd Austin

Who is Lloyd Austin?

  • Age: 67
  • State: Georgia

Previous Jobs:

  • Served in the army for 32 years. He reached the rank of a 4 Star General and became Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army 2012-2013 and CENTCOM commander 2013-2016. Retired in 2016.
  • Serves on the boards of Raytheon Technologies, Nucor and Tenet Healthcare, 2016-2020.
Illustration by Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Defense?

To provide a lethal Joint Force to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad.”

The reason Austin has been chosen is most likely his close relationship with Biden. When in the military Austin worked with Biden in multiple positions, “Most prominently when he was commander of CENTCOM from 2013 to 2016, during which they had discussions on a range of issues including the Middle East”. Furthermore, one of the CNN’s sources have said that, “They’ve known each other for a long time”, highlighting the importance of their relationship.

This appointment stands in-line with Biden’s pledge of “the most diverse cabinet in history” for, if successfully appointed, Austin will be the first African American to be Secretary of Defense. This, and other important points of his nomination, like his previous military history and his previous work with Biden were touched upon, in his first statement after Biden nominated him:

After thanking the President-elect for nominating him, Austin would state that it was his “sincere honour and privilege to return”, exclaiming that it was his departments job was to “ensure our nation’s security”.

For the importance of his position, he related the history of the black men of Georgia in the military to him becoming Secretary of State, how they were an inspiration to him.

When talking about his career he stated that he had, “spent much of my military career tackling tough issues”, and that “we have worked closely together [talking to Biden] on some tough issues, and we have gotten to know each other”, in which he promised that, “as Secretary of Defense I will give you the same direct unvarnished council as I did back then”.

I understand the important role of the department, the role it plays in maintaining stability and deterring aggression and maintaining and supporting important alliances around the world.

I come to this role as a civilian leader, with military experience but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military.

my priority will always be the men and women, military and civilian who make up the department and their families.

Lloyd Austin

To touch on the issues raised by Austin we must look at the leadership of the Department of Defense. The consensus is that civilians should lead the Department and not individuals with a military background. Two laws have been passed, one in 1947 and then in 2007, that require the leaders of the Defense Department to have been in retirement for ten-years, which was later reduced to seven, if they have served in the military. Therefore, to serve as the Secretary of Defense, Austin needs a waiver as he has only been retired for five-years. In the last 100 years there have only been two waivers. One for Gen. George Marshall in 1950 and for Marine Gen. James Mattis acquired in 2017.

Along with the challenge of acquiring a waiver Austin faces the issue of Democrat resistance, as they “weigh their commitment to civilian control of the military against a desire to elevate a history-making nominee to the role”, among these people are Elizabeth Warren highlighting how high up this resistance potentially reaches into the party.

Looking at his links to the private sector there is also a potential for a conflict of interest, he has served for the last 4 years on the boards of Raytheon Technologies, Nucor and Tenet Healthcare. Most important to this is Raytheon astwo-thirds of Raytheon’s current revenue is coming from its defense business”, in the US Raytheon and other companies compete for government contracts from the Department of defense with their own site for the contracts. With a recent Raytheon board member joining as department head there is the question of how he will hand contracts out without showing bias towards or against his old company.

Overall, Lloyd Austin appears to be one of the nominations less likely to be appointed with the added requirement of a waiver, the issue of civilian control of the Department, and his potential conflict of interest.


Secretary of the Interior – Deb Haaland

Who is Deb Haaland?

  • Age: 60
  • State: New Mexico

Previous Jobs:

  • Chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico 2015-2017.
  • Representative for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional district 2018-2020.

Committee Positions:

  • Committee on Armed Services.
  • Committee on Natural Resources (Vice Chair).
  • Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Deb Haaland
Illustration by Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secetary of The Interior?

“To preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of the US while providing scientific and other information about natural resources/hazards. Create opportunities for American people and honour the natives in these lands.

Being the First Native American to potentially hold the position, Haaland has previously stated that she looks to promote Native American rights and privileges as a politician. This fulfils the reasoning behind her appointment – to help with Biden’s diverse cabinet. This was made apparent before and during her nomination. In a 2018 Rolling Stones interview when asked why she wanted to join the House of one her reasons were:  

“I think it’s important to recognize that I won’t actually be a voice for my tribe or any tribe, but I hope that I can facilitate tribal leaders coming to the table and being able to voice their own concerns. Tribes have a government-to-government relationship with the federal government, with the state government.”

In her first speech after her nomination (see video below), Haaland stood on the tribal lands of the Lenape and would state that she was proud that Biden is “committed to a diverse cabinet”; talked about the struggles in her life, homelessness, reliance on food stamps, and being a single mum in which “these struggles give me perspective though, so that I can help people to succeed”.

Of the nomination itself she said, “this moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former Secretary of the Interior once proclaimed, his goal to quote ‘civilise or exterminate’ us”.

For the role of the Department, Haaland stated:

“as our country faces the impact of climate change and environmental injustice, Interior Department has a role to address these injustices”, “we will ensure the decisions at Interior will once again, be driven by science, we know climate change can only be solve with participation of every department and of every community”, the “issues under interior’s jurisdiction aren’t simply about conservation, they’re woven in with justice, good jobs and closing the racial wealth and health gaps”.

In this speech she clearly highlights her wish to continue helping the Native people. Along with the historic opportunity to have a Native person on his cabinet, Haaland has proven she is capable of effective administration. When she took over as head of the Democratic Party of New Mexico in 2015, she revived their fortunes and managed to pay off seven years of debt which had been accrued before her time as chair, which in part, would lead to her winning back the state in 2016, even after they had lost it at state level in 2014.

Overall, the importance of Haaland’s potential appointment as a tribal person cannot be diminished and it is an important appointment for the US. Haaland has the potential to understand better the Native peoples she is meant to look after and how the Department can help them or provide opportunities for them due to her previous experiences. The Senate is likely to accept her firstly due to historical significance and secondly due to her lack of problematic past actions.


Secretary of Agriculture – Tom Vilsack

Who is Tom Vilsack?

  • Age: 70
  • State: Iowa

Previous Jobs:

  • Governor of Iowa 1999-2007.
  • Secretary of Agriculture 2009-2017.
  • Chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council 2017-2020.
Tom Vilsock
Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secetary of Agriculture?

“To Provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agricultural production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and preserve our Nation’s natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.

Among Biden’s promise to farmers there were two crucial ones: climate change and addressing the discrimination against black and ethnic minority farmers.

In his appearance on Pod Save America in October 2020, Biden suggested that agriculture could be “the first net-zero industry in America”, in which he would discuss the potential of “carbon capture” as a good way for this to happen.

However, Vilsack was not the popular choice for Democrats who favoured greater action on climate change and other progressive issues, such as the concerns faced by minorities in farming. Instead, this faction of the party wished to see the Housing and Urban Development Secretary nomination, Marcia Fudge to become the Secretary of Agriculture.

Another issue that might increase their opposition to Vilsack are his links to big corporations. After he left Obama’s administration in 2017, he joined the U.S. Dairy Export Council. This might provide a conflict of interest with Vilsack potentially having improved relationships with big corporations. USDEC’s website states their mission is to:

enhance the demand for U.S. dairy products and ingredients by securing access and assisting suppliers to meet market needs that facilitate sales.

However his appointment also raises the issue of Biden promising to dismantle the “culture of discrimination” with Vilsack having a less than positive record on these issues. Both the National Black Food and Justice Alliance and the National Black Farmers Association allege that:

discriminatory practices continued at the USDA while under Vilsack’s leadership, including the denial of loans to Black farmers and a decrease in the percentage of dollars loaned to minority farmers

Reuters, ‘Biden’s agriculture secretary pick disappoints Black farmers’, December 11th 2020

Furthermore, Lawrence Luca the President Emeritus of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees stated the appointment “brings tears to my eyes” due to Vilsack’s record.

According to an investigation into Vilsack’s time at the department they sent a “lower share of loan dollars to Black farmers that it had under President Bush”. Under Vilsack “USDA employees foreclosed on Black farmers with outstanding discrimination complaints” and “threw out new complaints and misread their frequency”.

Vilsack would address this and other issues in his first statement after Biden announced his nomination.

He speech would start with a statement about how it would be an honour to “return to the vital work of the USDA at a critical moment”, in which he is looking forward to embracing “the full benefits of a diverse and inclusive senior leadership team”. Vilsackwould comment that he wishes to “continue the important work of rooting out inequities and systemic racism in the systems we govern and the programmes we lead”, persisting with his narrative of events, in which he has been not part of alleged racial discrimination at his department.

Vilsack would go on to state that he believed it was his, “duty and responsibility to expand those possibilities for all Americans at the USDA”. On the issue of climate change Vilsack said “Combatting climate change and reaping the new good paying jobs that will come” will be important for the Department.

Finally, he highlighted what his “charges” he will make when he gets into office:

contribute all we can as a department to aid in the pandemic response, reviving rural communities and economies, addressing dire food shortages, getting workers and producers the relief, they need.

make landmark investment in communities throughout America, especially those mired in poverty.

create new possibilities.

It seems despite this opposition from Black farmers and certain Democrats, Vilsack is still likely to pass due to his generally acceptability as a former governor and the lack of significant Republican opposition to his appointment. But if the Senate does scrutinise his ethical record too closely he could run into trouble.


Secretary of Health and Human Services – Xavier Becerra

Who is Xavier Becerra?

  • Age: 62
  • State: California

Previous Jobs:

  • Representative of California 1993-2017.
  • Attorney General of California 2017-2021.
Xavier Becerra
Illustration by Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Health and Human Services?

To Enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, by providing for effective health and human services and by fostering sound, sustained advances in  the sciences underlying medicine, public health and social services.

Becerra will be the first Latino to be secretary of this department as part of the ‘most diverse cabinet’ in history. He is a first-generation immigrant after he moved with his parents from Mexico.

In his first statement after Biden nominated him, Becerra would state that:

The of mission the Department of Health and Human Services has never been as vital or as urgent as it is today”, “the Covid pandemic and economic fallout have thrust families into crisis, too many Americans are sick, or have lost loved ones, too many have lost jobs.

He would go on to comment that, “to build back a prosperous America, we need a healthy America” believing that this is “job one” for his department. Becerra would then highlight the “the breath-taking opportunities” revealed by COVID-19 and promised to “build up and back up” the medical services, “restore faith and confidence in our leaders”, “deliver solutions that unite and heal us” and “build a nation where healthcare is a right not a privilege”.

The idea of healthcare being a “right not a privilege” has been a constant push for both the Democrats and of Biden. Biden promises to “protect and build on Obamacare” while other Democrats have pushed for more extreme versions like Medicare-for-all. This has been supported by  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of which have different plans on how to do it. Becerra has been ardent defender of the Affordable Care Act and lead the defence of it against Trump with 20 other states. On his court case Becerra told reporters:

Just as vigorously as a president and his administration are fighting to destroy the Affordable Care Act, we are fighting to save it for every American.

To learn more about this ongoing court case (California v Texas) click here.

Becerra’s plan to deal with the coronavirus currently appears to be following Biden’s own strategy.

A decisive public health response that ensures the wide availability of free testing; the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19; the development of a vaccine; and the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities.

joebiden.com/covid-plan

To learn more about Biden’s potential responses to COVID-19 click here.

Overall, it appears that Becerra would be a popular choice within the Senate. He has been selected for multiple reasons: to fulfil the pledge of a ‘diverse cabinet’ and his similar views with Biden on healthcare due to his defence of ACA. He seems likely to pass due to little Democrat opposition to his nomination and their 2-seat majority in the Senate.


Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Marcia Fudge

Who is Marcia Fudge?

  • Age: 68
  • State: Ohio

Previous Jobs:

  • Mayor of Warrensville Height 2000-2008
  • Representative 2008-2020

Committee Positions:

  • Committee on House Administration
  • Committee on Agriculture
  • Committee on Education and Labor
Marcia Fudge
Illustrated by Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development:

They are responsible for national policy and programs that address America’s housing needs, that improve and develop the Nation’s communities, and enforce fair housing laws

Initially wanted as the Secretary of Agriculture by her supporters, Fudge would become the first African American to be secretary of this department, part of a number of firsts in Biden’s most diverse cabinet.

In her first statement after Biden nominated her, she said that she would:

Work on behalf of people in every city and community”, “serve all those who are struggling and look for the fair shot we deserve”. Stating, “our task at the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be to stand up for the dignity of all Americans and deliver the promise of our nation to all those left out in the cold”. They would do this by taking “on the deep-set roots of poverty and homelessness, we will fight for housing in every community that’s affordable, decent and safe”, “close the gaps of inequity, build wealth and pass it onto their children”, “launch new opportunities” and “help people believe once again that their government cares about them.

It is not clear what expertise Fudge has for this position. The Committees she has participated in (shown above) do not directly relate to the subject matters covered by the Secretary of HUD but rather to those suited to someone wishing to take over the Department of Agriculture. Furthermore, her sponsorship of legislature in Congress highlights little interest if housing.

To add to this problem, she openly campaigned to be nominated for the Dept of Agriculture:

“As this country becomes more and more diverse, we’re going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in,” she said. “You know, it’s always ‘we want to put the Black person in Labor or HUD.”

Despite Fudge’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for this Department, it has become an important part of U.S. government as of late with the impact of COVID-19 causing a US housing crisis. Congress has responded to COVID’s problems with the CARES Act. This Act authorised $2 trillion to battle COVIDs economic affects and individuals earning less than $75,000 were given a check of $1,200 to help pay bills and rent. Biden will look to give an estimated $640 Billion in his long term Housing Plan with most of the money going through the Housing and Urban Development department.

Marcia Fudge seems to be extremely likely to pass through the Senate due to her popularity in the party.


Secretary of Transport – Pete Buttigieg

Who is Pete Buttigieg?

  • Age: 38
  • State: Indiana

Previous Jobs:

  • Reserve Navy Officer, 2009-2017
  • Mayor of South Bend Indiana 2012-2020
Pete Buttigieg

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Transport?

To ensure America has the safest, most efficient and modern transportation system in the world, which boosts our economic productivity and global competitiveness and enhances the quality of life in communities both rural and urban.

Buttigieg’s popularity and name recognition within both Democrat circles and the wider public would rapidly rise during his campaign in the 2020 Democratic Primaries. While he would proceed to drop out after failing in South Carolina and endorsing Biden on the same day (2nd of March 2020), this political move has seemed to have paid off after gaining him a seat near the White House.

As a self-confessed train enthusiast there is little doubt Buttigieg will enjoy this position. He acknowledges this in his first statement after Biden nominated him.

Buttigieg says that his old Mayoral town of “South Bend, Indiana was built by the power of American transportation” and he has a “personal love of transportation”.

Buttigieg highlights the importance of transport in the US, stating that:

At its best transportation makes the American dream possible”, “at its worst misguided policies and missed opportunities can reinforce racial, economic and environmental injustice.

He would go on to comment that he believes this is an “historic opportunity, this administration can deliver policies and resources that will create jobs, rise to the climate challenge and equitably serve all Americans”. Buttigieg would state that “step one in building back better, is to build” and “infrastructure policy must contemplate the immediate and the long term”.

The main problem of Buttigieg is his lack of experience. His only political position has been Mayor of South Bend Indiana with a population of 102,000. While Mayor, Buttigieg looked to improve transport. Firstly he increased the access to bicycles allowing South Bend to be recognised as a Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community status in 2010 and by 2018 it had about 79.3 miles of priority bicycle routes. Buttigieg also spent $23.5 million on infrastructure for 14 projects with both main throughfares, Michigan Street and Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, being changed into two-way roads.

Despite this record the problems he would have to deal with as Secretary of Transportation is mainly the ambitious Biden plan to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050 in his ‘Build Back Better’ plan. For the sector named as transit on Biden’s website he wants to:

“Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities – ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

The main reasons why Pete Buttigieg would want to be Transportation Secretary was covered in this YouTube video by the CNN.

  • The Highest office Buttigieg has ever held was Mayor of South Bend. He has never worked in Washington or handled an agency so this would be good experience for him. He would oversee an office with 55,000 employees.
  • Biden has made rebuilding infrastructure a key part of his government. Buttigieg would be on the frontline of this, helping rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of the US.
  • The cabinet does not have many proven TV presenters, therefore Buttigieg can be a public face for the administration as he has proven himself to be effective on television.
  • Buttigieg would like to do it. He enjoys improving infrastructure and has confessed that he likes trains and other types of transport.

Overall Buttigieg is an appealable option for the Biden administration due to his historic status as potentially the first LGBTQ cabinet member, being known nationwide, and his cross party support with Republican Governor Holcomb and Republican Senator Young, who have both promising to back his nomination. It seems extremely likely that he will pass through the Senate.


Secretary of Energy – Jennifer Granholm

Who is Jennifer Granholm

  • Age: 61
  • State: Michigan

Previous Jobs:

  1. Attorney General 1999-2003.
  2. Michigan Governor 2003-2011.
  3. Different private jobs including TV, company boards and working for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in 2016.
Jennifer Granholm
Illustration by Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Energy?

To ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.

Granholm has been a strong supporter of combatting climate change and protecting the environment. She attempted this as Michigan Governor and her first statement after Joe Biden officially announced her nomination made this clear:

She pledged her “Commitment to clean energy”, relating to her work in Michigan as Governor and how Biden and Obama rescued the auto-industry, “Electrify Detroit”, and how the US has a “promising future in clean energy”. Granholm believes that “clean energy remains one of the most promising jobs and economic growth sector in the world” and she will invest “trillions” in electric products.

She highlights “the path to building back better” is “made in America” and that by acting on climate change “we can win these jobs for American workers”.

As a 1st generation Canadian immigrant, she talked about her story of her family of immigrants moving to the US to get jobs without college degrees and how they “got their fair opportunity”.

Granholm claimed she is “obsessed with creating good paying jobs in America” and that by starting now on climate change “we can get in the game” and gain the jobs which combat climate change before other countries.

Despite Granholm’s promises on effective action against climate change her time as governor was less than effective at this. Many of her “green” jobs failed with the Michigan Economic Growth Authority allowing for billions of dollars to be given to 434 projects with only 2.3% of these projects meeting or exceeding expectations; of the 122,786 jobs anticipated only 13,914 were created.

One of the many failures of this program came from the hiring of the battery company, LG Chem, which was offered $115 million to build a plant in east-side of a town, called Holland, to employ around 300. However, a federal investigation found that “less than half of the expected number of jobs had been created”. They would discover “that employees spent time volunteering at local non-profit organizations, playing games and watching movies during regular working hours” due to low demand. This poor management wasted much federal money and did not produce the number of jobs expected.

Biden’s environmental plan looks to have a “clean energy revolution”. He promotes the ideals of the Green New Deal and will:

  • Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
  • Build a stronger, more resilient nation.
  • Rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change.
  • Stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities.
  • Fulfil our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth.

All these points, aside from point three, seem to potentially fall into the remit of the Department of Energy. While Granholm seems far from ideal due to her past failures, she appears to be one of the most likely to pass through the Senate.


Secretary of Education – Miguel Cardona

Who is Miguel Cardona?

  • Age: 45
  • State: Connecticut

Previous Jobs:

  • 2015-2019 Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning at Meriden.
  • 2019- Education Commissioner of Connecticut.
Miguel Cardona
Illustration by Rebekka Katajisto

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Education?

To promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Cardona is seen as a practical appointment with his past time as a teacher giving him insight on what action needs to be done in the department. In his first statement after Joe Biden officially announced his nomination he said:

I know how challenging this year has been for students, educators and parents” COVID has “taken some of our most painful longstanding disparities and wrenched them open even wider”, it has “stolen time from our children”. Now they must do the most American thing and “forge opportunity out of crisis” and “build something better.

He relates how as an immigrant he was the “first in family to graduate college and become a teacher, principal, an assistant superintendent”. He would go on to highlight that, “education was the great equalizer but for too many students your zip code and your skin colour remain the best predictor for the opportunities you will have in your lifetime”.

Cardona would continue to comment that, America should be “laying a wide strong foundation of quality universal early child education and quality emotional and social supports”, College has become “inaccessible” for many with reasons based “not on their aptitude or aspirations”. We “need schools to be places of innovation” and that the “teaching profession has been kicked around and not given the respect it deserves”. The US “must evolve to meet the needs of our students” and sadly “for too many students, public education has been a… wilted rose”.

Despite having little experience, Cardona does have several ideas on what the national effort towards better education should look like, which he discussed at length in an NBC Connecticut interview on the 30th of August 2019.

“biggest challenges as making inroads with our relations with colleges with business folks so that our students are prepared for higher education but also getting ready for the workforce and preparing for that.”

“we need to continue to evolve so we are preparing our students for the jobs of today and that means looking at our high school course offerings how we train teachers and what classes we offer.”

Biden’s Education plan bares many similarities to what Cardona voiced. He will:

  1. Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve.
  2. Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching.
  3. Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.
  4. Provide every middle and high school student a bath to a successful career.
  5. Start investing in our children at birth.

Expressed as a ‘real easy’ choice for Biden to be the next Secretary of Education Cardona is expected to easily pass through the Senate due to his lack of political divisiveness.


Secretary of Veterans Affairs – Denis McDonough

Who is Denis McDonough?

  • Age: 51
  • State: Minnesota

Previous Jobs:

  • Deputy National Security Advisor of the United States 2010-2013
  • White House Chief of Staff 2013-2017
  • Senior Principal at Markle Foundation 2017-2019
  • Senior Advisor at Markle Foundation 2019-2020
  • Partner at Macro Advisory Partners 2020
Dennis McDonough

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Veterans Affairs?

To run programmes benefiting veterans and members of their families. It offers education opportunities and rehabilitation services and provides compensation payments for disabilities or death related to military services, home loan guaranties, pensions, burials, and health care that includes the services of nursing homes, clinics, and medical centers.

McDonough will be the 2nd secretary to not be a veteran. This is an appointee made by Biden for political reasons, clearly having worked with him during McDonough’s time as Deputy National Security Advisor and White House Chief of Staff. The reasoning behind this was reported by CNN saying that “Biden was looking for a seasoned hand, who knows the government well”. To add to this relationship, they are both strong Catholics which must help their relationship.

After leaving the White House in 2017, McDonough worked in the private sector with Markle Foundation which states it looks to:

“Realize the potential of information technology to address previously intractable public problems for the economic security, health, and national security of all Americans.”

Along with this McDonough had started in 2020 working as a Partner at Macro Advisory Partners, Macro Advisory page states it is:

“the leading independent strategic advisory and macro analytics firm operating throughout the Eurasia region. We combine macro-economic and political analysis, risk assessment and investment due-diligence to help our clients identify opportunities and to best position for future profitable growth.”

Both these companies do not reflect a conflict of interest in McDonough’s potential to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs and in his first statement after Biden nominated him he said:

“in this work there is a mission that can bring every American together, caring for our nations veterans and their families” and that it is a “sacred obligation” to look after veterans. McDonough,  maybe attempt to make up for not being a veteran, related how he has been inspired by veterans, his grandad who was a veteran and his trips to Iraq, how he “Served with veterans in the administration” and he wants to “fight like hell for our veterans” to give them “healthcare, respect and dignity they deserve”, to the “make our VA even more welcoming to all veterans” but his “demanding job made even more difficult by the pandemic” and consequently “every federal agency and department has a role to play” in taking care of veterans.

Biden’s plan for veterans includes:

  1. Providing Veterans World Class Health Care to Meet their Specific Needs.
  2. Driving Progress to Eliminate Veterans Homelessness and Bring Down Suicide Rates.
  3. Creating Meaningful Employment and Educational Opportunities
  4. Improving VA Management and Accountability

COVID has made the job of the Veterans Affairs even more difficult but it seems that McDonough will pass through the Senate with little Democrat opposition.


Secretary of Homeland Security – Alejandro Mayorkas

Who is Alejandro Mayorkas?

  • Age: 61
  • State: California

Previous Jobs:

  • US Attorney for the Central District of California 1998-2001
  • US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director, 2009-2013
  • Deputy Homeland Security Secretary 2013-2016
  • Partner at Law Firm Wilmerhale 2017-20
Alejando Mayorkas

What is the Purpose of The Secretary of Homeland Security?

To secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, and our goal is clear – keeping America safe.

Alejandro would be the first Latino and immigrant to serve as head of the department and he was also part of Biden’s diverse Cabinet. Mayorkas is an ex-member of Obama’s White House. While this, for some, may initially appear to be a great positive, Mayorkas tenure as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director was a troubled one. He was accused of favouritism when overseeing the $500,000 visa programme. It was revealed by a whistleblower that Mayorkas allegedly used the EB-5 Program better known as the Green Card to benefit certain peoples/companies. In the investigation it states:

“In early 2013, Mr. Mayorkas created an extraordinary and unprecedented hearing process that many alleged resulted in preferential treatment to a specific regional center. They also alleged that the process was established as a result of improper personal access that Mr. Mayorkas gave to Tom Rosenfeld and forearm Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell”.

Mayorkas then left the Department in 2016, nearly a year before Obama left office, which has been suggested to have been linked to the March 2015 investigation. This troubled past could affect his nomination process as it has many others. One similar event was in 1993 when Zoe E. Baird, President Clinton’s Attorney General was found to have “hired undocumented immigrants and not paid appropriate taxes on their wages”. The article also relates that Obama’s nomination of Senator Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services secretary was ruined by “unpaid taxes on a limo service as well as consulting income” this clearly highlights the dangers of making public mistakes and then running for the top offices.

In his first statement after Joe Biden officially announced his nomination Mayorkas does not linger on his time in the White House:

Mayorkas calls his appointment “an honour of a lifetime”, calling his department’s work to “advance our proud history as a country of welcome” and he was excited to “return to the department and support these dedicated public servants”, he then touches on his previous work “for 12 years I had the privilege to stand in a federal court room and announce Alejandro Mayorkas on behalf of the United States of America”, noting only his courtroom work and then promises to “carry your (Biden’s) vision of our country forward”.

After leaving the White House he then worked at Law firm Wilmerhale in the White House Office. Wilmerhale states on their about page:


‘WilmerHale is a leading, full-service international law firm with 1,000 lawyers located throughout 13 offices in the United States, Europe and Asia. Our lawyers work at the intersection of government, technology and business.’

This does not show an on the surface conflict of interest but no doubt the Senate Committee will look to vet Mayorkas life as a civilian due to his previous wrongdoings.

Mayorkas job as will be to push forward “The Biden Plan for Securing our Values as a nation of immigrants”. Biden claims he will:

  1. Take urgent action to undo Trump’s damage and reclaim America’s values.
  2. Modernize America’s immigration system.
  3. Welcome immigrants in our communities.
  4. Reassert America’s commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees.
  5. Tackle the root causes of irregular migration.
  6. Implement effective border screening.

Mayorkas has been chosen as an immigrant to lead Biden’s more immigrant friendly Department of Security with some calling him a stability bringer in charge of the third largest department, a man who with the experience to lead it, others highlighting how he benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals a child from Cuba who has been brought in as a man when Cuba and US relations seem to be easing. Despite all this Mayorkas will have to face the Senate with the knowledge of his previous wrongdoings in Obama’s administration and will have to face this at full fury when it comes to his nomination. It is likely he will potentially step down as the nomination for the role or that he will make it through will fierce criticisms from the Republicans and uneasy backing from the Democrats.


Biden’s cabinet is holds true to his promise of the “most diverse cabinet”. He has made eight new firsts in his cabinet in regard to the race, sexuality, and gender of these candidates. He too has simultaneously managed to keep in his trusted supporters/friends, in which five of his picks are people he has previously worked with. This blend of pleasing the progressive side of the Democrat party, while establishing a cabinet he can trust, albeit does still have its problems. Alejandro Mayorkas and Lloyd Austin are certainly contestable and debatable candidates on the Senate floor. Mayorkas’ previous misconduct could come back to haunt him, while Austin must receive a waiver if he is to be considered. This will indefinitely complicate the process. The real decider on how intact Biden’s initial cabinet will be will largely depend on the Democrats in the senate who have a two-seat majority… Any unhappy Senator will have a strong voice indeed if any more major problems are dug up about his nominations.

Will Biden’s cabinet have pleased his party, or will it all fall apart?


Illustration by Will Hutchison

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About The Author

Lloyd Watts

I am from Portsmouth in Hampshire and I am currently studying International Relations at the University of Warwick. My main areas of interest in writing are in politics, history and sport. In terms of other hobbies I enjoy playing sports, mainly rugby and I love to game and read.

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