Explainer: Who Will Serve in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet?

NRB | January 21, 2021 | Advocacy

In the United States government, the Cabinet is the president’s advisory body that includes the Vice President and the heads of all 15 executive departments. These heads take the title of Secretary, except for the head of the Justice Department, who assumes the title of Attorney General. The Cabinet also includes the White House Chief of Staff and the heads of other government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and others.

All Cabinet members are appointed by the president and serve “at the pleasure of the president,” meaning that they can be dismissed or demoted at any time without Senate approval. With the exception of the White House Chief of Staff, all Cabinet members must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. This advisory body plays a significant role in the decisions that the president makes and in the leadership he provides. As President Biden takes office, here is an overview of his Cabinet picks.

Vice President

Vice President Kamala Harris

The Vice President of the United States is primarily responsible for being ready at a moment’s notice to assume the presidency if the president is unable to perform his duties. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, was sworn in as vice president on January 20, 2021.

Harris was previously a United States Senator for California, serving on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on the Budget.

Executive Department Heads

Secretary of Agriculture – Tom Vilsack

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for developing and executing policy regarding farming, agriculture, and food, and Tom Vilsack is Biden’s pick for secretary.

Vilsack served as the nation’s 30th Secretary of Agriculture for eight years under former president Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017. As former Secretary of the USDA, Vilsack strengthened the American agricultural economy, built vibrant rural communities, and created new markets for the tremendous innovation of rural America. During his tenure, Vilsack fought to put Americans back to work and to create a strong and sustainable economy.

Secretary of Commerce – Gina Raimondo

The Department of Commerce is tasked with creating jobs and economic growth and opportunity. Gina Raimondo is Biden’s pick for Secretary of Commerce.

Raimondo currently serves as the 75th Governor of Rhode Island. She served as founding employee and senior vice president at Village Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Williamstown, Massachusetts, that invested in high-growth start-up companies in at least 10 emerging cities across the country. She later co-founded Point Judith Capital and was involved in dozens of successful start-up companies.

In November 2010, Gina was elected to serve as General Treasurer of Rhode Island. When Gina took office as General Treasurer, she tackled the state’s $7 billion unfunded pension liability and shepherded passage of the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011.

Secretary of Defense – Lloyd Austin

The Department of Defense (DOD) is responsible for providing the military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our country, and General Lloyd J. Austin III is Biden’s pick for Secretary of Defense.

General Austin was commissioned an Infantry second lieutenant in 1975 upon graduation from the United States Military Academy at WestPoint, New York and has served in a wide variety of command and staff positions throughout his 37-year career. Some of these positions include serving as the Chief of Staff, United States Central Command from September 2005 until November 2006 and as the Director, Joint Staff from August 2009 to August 2010.

General Austin commanded United States Forces –Iraq from September 2010 through the completion of OPERATION NEW DAWN in December 2011. Most recently General Austin served as the 33d Vice Chief of Staff of the Army from January 2012 to March 2013 before assuming command of United States Central Command.

Secretary of Education – Miguel Cardona

The Department of Education is tasked with promoting student achievement and preparation for competition in a global economy. The Department is intended to foster excellence in education and equal opportunity for access to education. Miguel Cardona is Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont appointed Cardona as Commissioner of Education in August 2019. Prior to coming to the State Department of Education, Cardona had two decades of experience as a public-school educator in the city of Meriden. He began his career as an elementary school teacher and then served as a school principal for 10 years before transitioning to the central office to lead the work of performance and evaluation in the district. In 2013, he assumed the role of assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

Dr. Cardona served as the co-chairperson of the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force as well as co-chairperson of the Connecticut Birth to Grade Three Leaders Council.

Secretary of Energy – Jennifer Granholm

The Department of Energy (DOE) encourages the development of reliable, clean, and affordable energy, thus promoting the United States’ economic and national security. Biden’s pick for Secretary of Energy is Jennifer Granholm.

Serving as Governor of Michigan for two terms, Granholm pioneered clean energy innovation, economic development, and led the state through the national crisis in the turn-around of the American automotive and manufacturing sectors. She laid the groundwork for the improvement in Michigan’s economy after the auto industry bankruptcies, with bi-partisan efforts that created economic incentives in battery manufacturing, bioenergy, and solar and wind power.

Granholm leads several initiatives focused on exploring how technological advancements and clean energy policies impact jobs and the economy. She founded and for five years she was the Chair of the American Jobs Project, a 30-state multi-university research project focused on advanced manufacturing jobs in clean energy.

Secretary of Health and Human Services – Xavier Becerra

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is responsible for protecting the health and well-being of all Americans, and Biden has announced Xavier Becerra as his pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Becerra is the 33rd Attorney General of the State of California and is the first Latino to hold the office in the history of the state. He has decades of experience in appointed and elected offices in California, where he has fought for working families, the vitality of the Social Security and Medicare programs and issues to combat poverty. As Attorney General in California, Becerra worked to silence the work of David Daleiden who exposed the practices of Planned Parenthood in a way that even the LA Times criticized. In 2018, Becerra lost a Supreme Court case in which he was pushing a policy that would have significantly limited the religious liberty of pro-life pregnancy centers.

Many evangelical leaders understand that Becerra as secretary of the HHS would signal a major reversal of many of the religious liberty protections that have been put in place over the past four years.

Secretary of Homeland Security – Alejandro Mayorkas

The Department of Homeland security has three priorities: to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks; to protect the American people, our critical infrastructure, and key resources; and to respond to and recover from any incidents that do occur. Alejandro Mayorkas is Biden’s pick for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Mayorkas was sworn in as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security on December 23, 2013. Prior to this, he served as the Director of the Department’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). While at USCIS he developed a number of important programs and initiatives, including the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and important reforms that safeguard our nation’s security and ensure the integrity of its immigration system.

In 1998, President Clinton nominated and the United States Senate confirmed Mayorkas as the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, becoming the youngest U.S. Attorney to serve the nation at that time.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Marcia Fudge

The Department of Housing and Urban development (HUD) addresses America’s housing needs, improves and develops communities, and enforces fair housing laws. Marcia Fudge is Biden’s pick for the head of this department.

Congresswoman Fudge serves on the Committee on House Administration, House Committee on Agriculture and House Committee on Education and Labor.  She is the Chair of the Committee on House Administration Subcommittee on Elections and Chair of the Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations.

Secretary of the Interior – Deb Haaland

The Department of the interior (DOI) conserves and manages the nation’s natural resources, wildlife, and cultural heritage. Deb Haaland is Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Interior.

Haaland earned degrees from the University of New Mexico and University of New Mexico Law School. For several years, she ran her own small business and later became the first Chairwoman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors. She successfully advocated for the Laguna Development Corporation to create policies and commitments to earth-friendly business practices.

Haaland is a 35th generation New Mexican who is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, and also has Jemez Pueblo heritage. After running for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, Haaland became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a State Party. During her time as State Party Chair, she traveled to Standing Rock to stand side-by-side with the community to protect tribal sovereignty and advocate vital natural resources. After a lifetime of organizing communities to stand up for New Mexican families, Haaland was elected as one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress.

Attorney General – Merrick Garland

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the world’s largest law office and serves as the central agency for the enforcement of Federal laws in the United States. Biden has selected Merrick Garland as his pick for Attorney General.

Garland currently serves as a United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1989, shortly after becoming a partner at a prominent law firm, he returned to public service by accepting a job as a federal prosecutor during the George H.W. Bush Administration, investigating and trying cases involving public corruption, drug trafficking, and fraud. He later joined the Department of Justice, first as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division and then as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General.

When Garland was nominated to the D.C. Circuit, Garland received overwhelming bipartisan praise from Senators, lawyers, and commentators, and was confirmed by a vote of 76-23 in 1997. In his 19 years on the D.C. Circuit, Garland has a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law.

Secretary of Labor – Marty Walsh

Marty Walsh is Biden’s pick for Secretary of Labor. The Department of Labor oversees Federal programs to ensure a strong American workforce.

Walsh is the 54th mayor of Boston where he has focused on strengthening Boston’s schools, adding hundreds of high-quality pre-kindergarten seats, funding extended learning time and advanced curriculum at more schools, and securing tuition-free community college for Boston Public Schools graduates.

He has led Boston to the forefront of the global innovation economy by attracting industry-leading private sector employers, upgrading the City’s digital infrastructure, and using technology to transform government services. At the same time, he has created powerful tools for low-income workers. He is the founding vice-chair of the Cities of Opportunity Task Force at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, elevating the national conversation on income inequality. Before taking office, Walsh served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he was a leader on job creation and worker protections.

Secretary of State – Antony Blinken

The Department of State leads the way in developing and implementing the president’s foreign policy, and Antony Blinken is Biden’s pick for Secretary of State.

Blinken was confirmed by the United States Senate as Deputy Secretary of State on Dec. 16, 2014 and was sworn in on Jan. 9, 2015. During the first term of the Obama Administration, Blinken was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President. He served for six years on Capitol Hill (2002 – 2008) as Democratic Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Blinken was a member of former president Clinton’s National Security Council staff at the White House from 1994 to 2001. From 1999 to 2001, he was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs – Clinton’s principal advisor for relations with the countries of Europe, the European Union, and NATO. From 1994 through 1998, Blinken was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Speechwriting and then Strategic Planning, overseeing foreign policy planning, communications and speechwriting and serving as President Clinton’s chief foreign policy speechwriter.

Secretary of Transportation – Pete Buttigieg

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for ensuring fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation systems for the American people. President Biden has nominated Pete Buttigieg for this role.

From 2007 to 2010, Buttigieg worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company, specializing in economic development, business, logistics, and energy initiatives for government and private sector clients. Buttigieg ran for treasurer of Indiana in 2010, losing in the general election to Richard Mourdock (R). The following year, he won the South Bend mayoral election with 74% of the vote. In 2014, he took a leave of absence as mayor and completed a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, earning the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his contributions to counterterrorism.

Buttigieg was a candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2017 but withdrew his candidacy before a vote was held. He previously served as president of the Indiana Urban Mayors Caucus and on the boards of directors of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Truman National Security Project.

Secretary of the Treasury – Janet Yellen

The Department of the Treasury promotes economic prosperity and ensures the soundness and security of the U.S. and international financial systems, and Janet Yellen is Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Treasury.

Yellen is a Distinguished Fellow in Residence with the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, as well as an adviser to the Magellan Group. She previously served as Chair of the Federal Reserve Board (2014-2018), as Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board (2010-2014), as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2004-2010), and as Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors (1997-1999).

Yellen is Professor Emerita at the University of California at Berkeley where she was the Eugene E. and Catherine M. Trefethen Professor of Business and Professor of Economics (1999-2006) and has been a faculty member since 1980.  Prior to Berkeley, she was assistant professor of economics at Harvard University (1971-1976), an economist at the Federal Reserve Board (1977-1978), and a lecturer at the London School of Economics (1978-1988).

Secretary of Veterans Affairs – Denis McDonough

Denis McDonough is Biden’s pick for Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The Department of Veterans Affairs administers benefit programs for veterans.

Denis McDonough is professor of the practice of public policy at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. From February 2013 until January 20, 2017, McDonough served as White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama. He provided strategic advice to the President on the most significant domestic policy, national security, and management issues facing the federal government and enforced plans and accountability for performance and goals.

Prior to his role as chief of staff, McDonough served as assistant to the president and principal deputy national security advisor. He chaired the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee, leading a multiagency team to address complex national security challenges.

Before serving in the White House, McDonough was in senior leadership and policy-making positions in the U.S. House of Representatives, as professional staff member on the International Relations Committee, and in the U.S. Senate, for the Senate Majority Leader and for Senator Ken Salazar (Colorado).

Cabinet-Level Positions

Chief of Staff – Ron Klain

The president of the United States appoints a chief of staff who does not have to be confirmed by the Senate and who serves at the pleasure of the president. Klain is Biden’s pick for this position.

Klain graduated from Harvard Law School, where he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. He started his legal career as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Byron White. He worked in private practice with a focus on constitutional, commercial, technology, and election law. He also served as general counsel for the Gore Recount Committee in 2000.

From 1989 to 1992, Klain served as the chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Joe Biden was the committee’s chairman. He also worked as chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore (D), U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno (D), and Vice President Joe Biden. He was the White House Ebola response coordinator in 2014 and 2015.

Klain was also an advisor for several Democratic presidential campaigns, including the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Biden.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency – Michael Regan

The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for enforcing the nation’s Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Biden has nominated Michael Regan to this position.

Regan currently serves as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. With more than 18 years of professional experience, he previously served as the Associate Vice President of U.S. Climate and Energy and Southeast Regional Director of the Environmental Defense Fund, worked with the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality and energy programs for the Clinton and Bush administrations, and served as a national program manager responsible for designing programs aimed at reducing pollution, and market-based solutions to improve energy efficiency, air quality and climate-related challenges.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget – Neera Tanden

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget assists the president in overseeing the Federal budget and supervises its administration in Executive Branch agencies. Neera Tanden is Biden’s pick for this position, and if confirmed would be the first woman of color to hold this position.

Tanden is the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and the CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. She previously served as senior adviser for health reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where she was a part of developing the Affordable Care Act. Prior to that, she served as the director of domestic policy for the Obama-Biden presidential campaign and as policy director for Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign.

U.S. Trade Representative – Katherine Tai

The U.S. Trade Representative is responsible for overseeing and recommending trade policy to the president, as well as leading trade negotiations between the U.S. and other countries. President-elect Biden has nominated Katherine Tai to this position.

Tai currently serves as Chief Trade Counsel to the Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee. Prior to this role, Tai served in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office of the General Counsel first as an Associate General Counsel and then as Chief Counsel for China Trade Enforcement. Tai is the first American-born citizen in her family and was raised in the Washington, D.C. area. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School.

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency – William J. Burns

The Director of Central Intelligence serves as the senior intelligence officer of the government, establishes requirements and priorities for community efforts, develops and justifies the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP), and protects sources and methods. William Burns is Biden’s nominee for this position.

Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Prior to his tenure as Deputy Secretary, Ambassador Burns served as Undersecretary for Political Affairs. He was Ambassador to Russia, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, and Ambassador to Jordan.

Director of National Intelligence – Avril Haines

A position created by Congress in 2004, the Director of National Intelligence advises the president on matters of national security and classified intelligence. This position also creates the president’s daily intelligence briefings. Biden tapped Avril Haines to serve in this role.

Haines previously served as Principal Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama. She is first woman to hold both of those roles. If confirmed by the Senate, she will become the first woman to serve as Director of National Intelligence.

Prior to her time in the Obama Administration, Haines worked as a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University, a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and a member of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Haines graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in physics and received her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.

Administrator of the Small Business Administration – Isabel Guzman

The Administrator of the Small Business Administration oversees the programs that assist small businesses in obtaining loans and loan guarantees, as well as other forms of assistance. Isabel Guzman is Biden’s pick for this role.

Guzman served as a deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to the administrator at the SBA during the Obama administration, and has run her own small businesses. In 2019, she became the director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate, where she helped implement a grant program for businesses affected by the pandemic. Prior to working at the SBA, Guzman was a director of strategic initiatives at ProAmerica Bank, a commercial bank that serviced small and mid-sized businesses.

It unclear whether Biden will have any Cabinet members in place before he assumes office. His first four Cabinet nominees are slated for Senate hearings on Tuesday, January 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration.

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