The Biden administration has announced its nominees for the Cabinet and Cabinet-rank positions. These early nominees provide insight into the direction the Biden administration intends to take the federal agencies. By and large, the Biden administration nominated veteran public administrators with broad experience in the federal system, although there are several notable state-level leaders.
Below is a brief summary of the nominees, listed in order of succession to the presidency. Note that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is first in order of succession, and aside from her, all others are nominees. Cabinet and Cabinet-rank nominees are subject to Senate confirmation. Positions designated with an * are direct appointments, not subject to Senate confirmation.
Department of State (state.gov)
Antony Blinken is former deputy secretary of state and has served in senior positions on the National Security Council under the Obama and Clinton administrations. Upon leaving the Obama administration, Blinken co-founded the WestExec Advisors LLC, a consulting group comprised of former Obama administration officials; it has been described as facilitating relationships between Silicon Valley and the Department of Defense. Recently, Blinken was a global affairs analyst for CNN. Blinken previously served then-Senator Biden as his chief foreign policy adviser. Blinken holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and law degree from Columbia University.
Blinken's nomination signals several things. He is a moderate, seen as soft spoken but well versed on complicated international affairs. Blinken is expected to repair diplomatic ties and rebuild U.S. relationships around the world. He is seen as a Europeanist, fluent in French, a father who was ambassador to Hungary, an uncle who was ambassador to Belgium, and a stepfather who was a Holocaust survivor and who advised President Kennedy.
Department of the Treasury (treasury.gov)
Janet Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve, served as a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institute, a center-left think tank. Yellen holds a bachelor's degree from Brown University and a masters and Ph.D. in economics from Yale University.
Yellen is often seen as an economic "dove" as opposed to a "hawk." The key difference is that Yellen is seen to place more concern on unemployment numbers rather than inflation. She is a Keynesian economist, using monetary policy to stabilize the economy over a long-term cycle. When aggregate economic demand is erratic and unstable, a market economy will experience large scale inefficiencies — recessions or inflation. Keynesian economists use economic policy between government and central banking to mitigate and minimize the economic swings. With economic pressure mounting under the pandemic, Yellen is expected to bring a calm, expertise to the Treasury. To date, she has advocated for continued government support of workers, businesses, state and local governments, and she is expected to broker any additional negotiations with the House and Senate.
Department of Defense (defense.gov)
Lloyd Austin retired in 2016 as a U.S. Army four-star general, after leading CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) with an area of responsibility over the Middle East, Egypt, Central Asia, and parts of South Asia. Since his retirement, he has served on the boards of Raytheon Technologies, Nucor, and Tenet Healthcare. Gen. Austin was the commanding general of U.S. force in Iraq from 2010-2013, was the Army vice chief of staff in charge of administration of the budget and staff, and served at numerous U.S. installations across his forty-year, highly decorated military career. Gen. Austin holds a bachelor's degree from the U.S Military Academy (West Point), a master of arts in education from Auburn University, an MBA from Webster University, and he completed Army War College.
Gen. Austin is known for strategic patience, especially when it comes to dealing with China, an emerging U.S. military rival. Biden directly responded to the criticism of Gen. Austin, identifying the first areas a new Department of Defense secretary will need to focus on: deployment of vaccines widely and equitably, well-being and resilience of service members and their families worldwide, and diversity within the armed forces. If successful, Gen. Austin will be the first African American to run the Pentagon.
Gen. Austin's nomination will require a House and a Senate waiver, because he has not been retired from the Army for the requisite seven years, and there is a strict requirement that the head of the Department of Defense be a civilian. The Senate Armed Services Committee appears to be ready to approve the waiver for Gen. Austin.
Department of Justice (usdoj.gov)
Merrick Garland is a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and has served for seven years as the circuit's chief judge. In previous roles, Judge Garland has served as an assistant U.S. attorney and the principal deputy associate attorney general, supervising and prosecuting high-profile cases including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber, the Atlanta Olympics bombing, and others. Judge Garland had a couple of stints in private practice, focusing on corporate litigation. In March 2016, President Obama nominated Judge Garland to replace Justice Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court; the Senate did not allow his candidacy to progress beyond nomination. Judge Garland holds both a bachelor's and a law degree from Harvard University. Judge Garland also clerked for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.
Judge Garland is seen as a moderate and centrist, with a pro-prosecutor bend in criminal cases. The new attorney general will be expected to handle any issues related to President Trump's administration, criminal justice reform efforts, and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as address any perceived issues around restoring independence and integrity to the attorney general's office.
Department of the Interior (doi.gov)
Debra Haaland is the current U.S. representative from New Mexico's 1st District (Albuquerque), and she is the vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources. She previously served as the chair of New Mexico's Democratic Party. Prior to that, she served in several roles with the Laguna Pueblo, a federally recognized tribe, in which she is an enrolled member. She focused on earth-friendly policies while strengthening the local economy. She also served as tribal administrator for the San Felipe Pueblo. And, she was a small business owner. She holds bachelor's and law degrees from the University of New Mexico.
Haaland, if successfully confirmed, will be the first Native American Secretary of the Department of the Interior. She is expected to bring her knowledge and commitment to environmental protections and clean energy, as well as her perspective on land and water conservation, renewable energy, public lands, and federal parks. It is also expected that the new secretary will be involved in Biden administration efforts around the climate crisis and the reduction of carbon emissions.
Department of Agriculture (usda.gov)
Tom Vilsack, who served eight years in this same role in the Obama administration, also served as Iowa's governor for two terms. Vilsak holds a bachelor of arts degree from Hamilton College, and a law degree from Albany Law School.
Vilsack's nomination has been criticized by some as a status quo selection, citing concerns around his civil rights record with farmers of color and women. The Biden administration highlighted his deep understanding of the USDA, and the immediate need to address problems facing rural communities, farmers, and low income families hit hard by the pandemic.
Department of Commerce (commerce.gov)
Gina Raimondo is the governor of Rhode Island, and a venture capitalist. Relatively new to politics, Raimondo served as state treasurer for Rhode Island for two terms prior to being elected governor. The majority of her experience is in the private sector as a hedge fund manager. She holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard University, a law degree from Yale University, and was a Rhodes Scholar, earning a doctor of philosophy from Oxford University.
Raimondo is expected to negotiate international trade deals, set tariffs, and promote U.S. exports overseas. Raimondo has often shared the story of her father's job loss due to the company's shift in manufacturing activities to China. Her role here would place her in charge of setting globalization or protectionism policy, and then negotiating any trade agreements including with China.
Department of Labor (dol.gov)
Martin Walsh has been the mayor of Boston, since 2013; he previously served in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives. Walsh holds a bachelor's degree from Boston College, which he earned by attending evening classes while serving in the state legislature. He is a member of the Laborers Local 223, and served as the secretary of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council.
His nomination is seen as a pro-worker selection. This is consistent with the Biden-Harris campaign agenda, which heavily campaigned on the right to organize and a pro-labor agenda.
Department of Health and Human Services
Xavier Becerra is the current attorney general of California, where he has been focused on environmental justice, immigration, worker's rights, and gun violence. Becerra served in Congress from 1993-2017 and serving as the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for two years. He holds a bachelor's degree and a law degree from Stanford University.
His nomination is seen as bringing years of health politics and policy to the forefront. Becerra was criticized for lacking front-line public health experience or managing patient care, but he does have twenty-plus years where some believe it will count tomorrow. He is expected to tackle thorny issues around the Trump-era rollbacks to both the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Medicaid, as well as around reproductive health, and of course, the ongoing issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Marcia Fudge has been the U.S. representative from Ohio's 11th Congressional District, since 2008, and previously served as mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, as well as chief of staff to then-U.S. Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones and a finance and budget director for a county prosecutor's office. While in the House, Fudge served as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, known for pursuing its policy agenda on criminal justice reform, combatting voter suppression, expanding access to world-class education, quality affordable health care, eliminating racial disparities, strengthening protections for fair compensation, and expanding opportunities and access to capital for minority-owned businesses. Fudge holds a law degree from Cleveland State University, and a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is expected to be critical to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, as the number of families and individuals struggling with rent and mortgage payments has spiked and is expected to grow. As eviction restrictions end, HUD will be central to any relief efforts.
Department of Transportation (dot.gov)
Pete Buttigieg is the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and was an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve from 2009 to 2017. He worked as an analyst at McKinsey & Company on energy, retail, economic development, and logistics for three years. He holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.
The Department of Transportation has 55,000 employees, an $87 billion budget, and controls safety for U.S. airspace, highway system, and pipeline systems. The Biden administration has clearly telegraphed its intentions for jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate to remain at the forefront, and Biden directly stated that Buttigieg would be leading this ambitious undertaking to build back better. Buttigieg is expected to work with mayors and governors.
Department of Energy (energy.gov)
Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan and former attorney general of Michigan, is currently an adjunct professor of law and public policy at U.C. Berkeley and is a senior research fellow at the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute. Previously, she was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She holds a bachelor's degree from U.C. Berkeley and a law degree from Harvard University.
Granholm is expected to implement the campaign promise to move the U.S. off of fossil fuels. As governor of Michigan, she is sensitive to the auto industry with strong support there, yet is solid on environmental matters. She will shift from the current Department of Energy (DOE) focus on natural gas exports and coal, toward advanced renewable energy. While much of the DOE's budget involves the nuclear weapons arsenal, the DOE also has oversight over seventeen national laboratories, as well as loan guarantees and grant programs for solar and wind power. The DOE also sets the national standards for appliance emissions — like electric heat pumps — and administers federal assistance programs for commercial and residential energy efficiency programs. Granholm has expressed the important role the private sector must have in reaching a low or zero-carbon future.
Department of Education (ed.gov)
Miguel Cardona, education commissioner for Connecticut, began his career as a fourth-grade teacher, was promoted to principal, and eventually assistant superintendent. Cardona holds a bachelor's degree in education from Central Connecticut State, a master's in bilingual and bicultural education from the University of Connecticut, and a doctorate in educational leaders from the same.
Biden has long said his pick for the Department of Education would be a teacher or educator. Cardona is expected to focus first on the pandemic and ensure that students are safely returned to schools. He is expected to focus on the disparities among students based on socioeconomic status and closing achievement gaps. Both Cardona and Biden refer to public education as the great equalizer. He is expected to support public education over the private school voucher system that his predecessor supported. He garnered support from labor unions. His views on higher education remain to be seen, but are expected to be consistent with supporting public universities and access to education.
Department of Veterans Affairs (va.gov)
Denis McDonough is the former White House chief of staff and former national security chief for President Obama. Since leaving the White House, he has been at the Markel Foundation, a private foundation focused on improving the outdated labor market to reflect the needs of a modern, digital economy. Prior to the White House, McDonough served the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and was a senior aide to two senators. He holds a bachelor of arts from St. John's University Minnesota and a master of science from Georgetown University.
His nomination is interesting. He is not a veteran, yet will now lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The nomination signals a preference for a seasoned policy official with bureaucratic knowledge. The VA is the nation's largest healthcare system, and is in the process of implementing an overhaul of its medical records to a new private-sector system — by contractor Cerner — to connect to the Department of Defense and private care medical records.
Department of Homeland Security (dhs.gov)
Alejandro "Ali" Mayorkas is the former deputy secretary for Homeland Services and former director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Prior to that, he was the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, known for prosecuting several high-profile killings, the bribing of public officials, and organized crime. He was also in private practice several times as a litigation and white-collar crimes attorney. He holds a bachelor of arts from U.C. Berkeley and a law degree from Loyola Marymount University.
His nomination signals key priorities for the Biden administration. Biden has expressed a clear intention to reverse Trump-era deterrence policies, including ending deportations within 100 days of taking office, suspending construction of the border wall, reopening the asylum centers, reducing detentions, and working to amnesty for those illegally present in the U.S.
Mayorkas is the son of Jewish-Cuban refugees who fled during the Cuban Revolution. His mother, Romanian and Jewish, had fled to Cuba during the Holocaust, only to flee to the U.S. less than twenty years later, making his position on immigration patently clear. He previously held a senior-level position at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and is familiar with the department's inner workings. He implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. He is expected to focus on three agencies with DHS: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the USCIS, and two areas specifically: immigration and asylum. DHS is also responsible for cybersecurity and domestic counterterrorism, which will draw some attention.
The following positions have the status of Cabinet-rank and White House Staff:
White House Chief of Staff*
Ron Klain served as chief of staff to both Vice President Biden and Vice President Al Gore, as well as former Attorney General Janet Reno. During the Obama administration, he was tapped as the Ebola response coordinator, responsible for managing that public health crisis. He served as staff director of the Senate Democratic Leadership Committee and as chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He has been in private legal practice, a federal lobbyist, and served as executive vice president of a technology venture capital firm. He holds a bachelor of arts from Georgetown and a law degree from Harvard University.
Klain's selection as chief of staff indicates again that Biden is surrounding himself with trusted advisors with breadth and depth in the federal government. Klain was with Biden during the economic recovery following the Great Recession. He is expected to work on both the economic and public health sides of the pandemic.
Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov)
Michael Regan is the current secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. During his administration, he focused on environmental justice, promoting community engagement with underserved and marginalized communities, and a clean energy plan to reduce private sector greenhouse gas emissions and meet carbon neutrality. He also is overseeing private sector clean-up efforts around coal ash contamination and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. Previously he held posts at the Environmental Defense Funds and in the U.S. EPA's Air Quality Program. He holds a bachelor of science in earth and environmental science from North Carolina A&T State University, and a master of public administration from George Washington University.
Regan's appointment is seen as another strong indicator of Biden's position on climate policy: mitigate climate change, ramp up clean energy production, expand low-carbon infrastructure, and reach zero-greenhouse gas emissions from power by 2035. Regan will be expected to rebuild the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following Trump-era regulatory rollbacks. Regan has focused on the health impacts of environmental regulation, and is expected to restore that to the central work of the EPA. Early on, it is expected that he will craft regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and industry.
Office of Management & Budget (whitehouse.gov/omb)
Neera Tanden is the current president of the Center for American Progress, where she has served in different capabilities since 2003. The center is known for its liberal viewpoints on economic and social issues. She was legislative director to then-Senator Hillary Clinton, and worked on several of Clinton's campaigns. During the Obama administration, she was a senior health advisor for healthcare reform, championing the Affordable Care Act, at the U.S. Health and Human Services. She holds a bachelor's degree from UCLA, and a law degree from Yale University.
Tanden is known for her blunt style, and it has raised concerns about her nomination and confirmation hearings. She remains vocal about the value of the social safety net programs and immigration, specifically citing her family's experience. She will be expected to shape the Biden administration's economic agenda and approve agency policies, as well as the Office of Management & Budget's role of setting the federal budget and clearing new regulations. Rollbacks of Trump-era cuts to social programs are expected.
United States Trade Representative (ustr.gov)
Katherine Tai is the current chief trade counsel, House Ways and Means Committee. Previously, she served as the chief counsel for China trade enforcement at the Trade Representative's Office of General Counsel. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard University.
Tai is highly regarded by moderate and progressive members of Congress due to her skill as a negotiator. She will be expected to repair economic ties with U.S. allies. Tai has significant trade experience and expertise in dealing with China, which will be important as the Biden administration intends to remain tough on China specifically around forced labor and intellectual property, while also preserving the trade relationship.
Avril Haines is the former White House deputy national security advisor, and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and served in the Office of White House Counsel, all under the Obama administration. More recently she was with WestExec Advisors. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Georgetown University.
Haines' nomination signals a preference for seasoned policy advisors. She is known for speaking truth to power, sharing what may be considered uncomfortable truths, and having difficult conversations with Biden and his administration. She is also known for controversial stands on sensitive issues such as drone killings and enhanced interrogation techniques. She is expected to be part of the Biden team that confronts adversaries and does not reject American allies. More specifically she will lead counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and counterproliferation efforts.
Central Intelligence Agency
William Burns is a veteran career diplomat, having served as ambassador to Russia and Jordan, and in senior leadership roles at the Department of State across more than three decades. Most recently, he is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan international policy think-tank. He holds a bachelor's degree from LaSalle University and both a master's and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University.
Burns is expected to be apolitical in his approach to intelligence. His nomination signals a change – Burns is a career foreign service officer, a diplomat, not an intelligence officer. This signals a shift to rebuilding international alliances. Burns is expected to address Russia and China, as well as transnational threats posed by the pandemic and climate change.
National Security Advisor
Jake Sullivan was deputy chief of staff at the State Department under Secretary Clinton, a senior advisor for the U.S. on the Iran nuclear negotiations, and served as the national security advisor to then-Vice President Biden, as well as director of policy planning at the State Department. He holds a bachelor's and a law degree from Yale University, and was a Rhodes Scholar in international relations at Oxford University.
His nomination signals a philosophical shift that the foreign and domestic strength of the U.S. relies on a thriving middle class in America. His calculus has shifted over the past four plus years to placing Americans at the center of any policy. Sullivan is expected to focus on the pandemic, including international public health surveillance, and climate change as permanent national security priorities in the Biden administration.
United States Mission to the United Nations (usun.state.gov)
Linda Thomas-Greenfield is the former assistant secretary of state for African affairs at the State Department, and most recently was with the global business strategic firm the Albright Stonebridge Group. She was a career diplomat, joining the Foreign Service in 1982, serving as deputy assistant secretary to the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, was the ambassador to Liberia, the director of the Foreign Service, and director of Human Resources. She held posts in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. She holds a bachelor of arts from Louisiana State University, and a master of public administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Thomas-Greenfield's nomination is another signal that the Biden administration intends to engage in more traditional foreign policy, i.e. diplomacy and multilateralism — where multiple countries collaborate in pursuit of a common goal. She is expected to reestablish the U.S.' position at the United Nations, and rebuild credibility and relationships in a foreign policy that does not squarely place America first.
Council of Economic Advisers (whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/cea
Cecilia Rouse is the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and a professor of economics and public affairs there. She served on this same Council for President Obama, as well as the National Economic Council in the Clinton administration. She holds a bachelor's, master's, and law degree all from Harvard University, and is a labor economist.
Her nomination signals the urgency of the economic pressures created by the pandemic. She is expected to help rebuild the U.S. economy, and it is anticipated that she will focus on the job crises, the frayed safety net, and structural inequities in the economy.
Small Business Administration (sba.gov)
Isabel Casillas Guzman is California's small business advocate director. During the Obama administration, she served as the deputy chief of staff to the Small Business Administration's administrator. Her experience is largely centered on small businesses, development, and policy, and she owns and operates her own small business. She holds a bachelor of science degree from the Wharton School of Management at the University of Pennsylvania.
She is known for her work in growing small businesses, her expertise in public and private supply chains, capital market, and strategic growth, all of which she is expected to bring to bear with small businesses devastated by the pandemic.
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate*
John Kerry is the former secretary of state for President Obama, former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, and former Lt. Governor of Massachusetts; he also is a Vietnam veteran. During his time in the Senate, Kerry served in a number of senior committee roles including Senate Foreign Relations and climate change. He was the key architect of the Paris Climate Accord. He holds a bachelor of arts from Yale University and a law degree from Boston College.
Biden has proposed an ambitious climate agenda that seeks to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and proposes broader public investment in green infrastructure, including $2 trillion for clean energy projects.
Kerry is expected to build consensus between big energy companies and environmental groups, and actually get agreements in place to lower emissions. He has a long history of progressive climate policy, including market-based approaches to limiting carbon. Kerry will have a decidedly international focus, and is also expected to address the continued growth of coal-fired power plants in China. This newly created Special Envoy position is also a member of the National Security Council (NSC) ensuring that climate change considerations are integrated into national security concerns.
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