The Speaker
Monday, 20 May 2024 – 22:57

What will President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet look like?

President-elect Joe Biden will spend the next few months preparing for office and that begins with thinking about what the White House will look like once he’s in office. One of the first changes he is likely to make will be to return the bust of Martin Luther King to the oval office (removed by Trump) and replace the Trump-style gold curtains behind the resolute desk with the traditional red drapes. But far more important is he will start making phone calls to members of his prospective cabinets to offer them roles on the Biden-Harris team.

A Biden cabinet is an unknown quantity. He spent much of his career as a moderate Senate Democrat – most of his time being spent with Republican colleagues – but has, in this campaign, tried to pivot towards the left and embrace strong climate change and social policies. The best guess is that many of the former Obama team will come back, but with important appointments on the left and right.

Biden’s campaign has frequently discussed unity going forward, with former Obama advisor, David Axelrod, suggesting that he would be wise to appoint at least one registered Republican to the cabinet. This would probably be a mistake when Biden was carried to the White House on the backs of the left of his party, with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and particularly Stacey Abrams, working relentlessly for his election.

Whilst it is unlikely that Biden will appoint the major figure of the left, Bernie Sanders, to the cabinet – nor the progressive New York representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – he will be likely to give some positions to major figures on the left.

Elizabeth Warren – widely considered the second most progressive Senator, after Sanders – is amongst the favourites to become the Treasury Secretary (equivalent of the UK chancellor) and there is a large call for Stacey Abrams to receive a big job in the cabinet. Abrams was vital in the Democrats headway in Georgia, signing up almost a million people to vote in the state, predominantly African American, following the state purging many African Americans from the voter rolls before her unsuccessful Gubernatorial bid in 2018.

However, there is the possibility of Biden appointing Republican figures, with several Republican’s backing him during the election. John Kasich, one of the Republicans who ran against Trump in the 2016 primary, was a big supporter of Biden in the campaign, and there is a possibility that he could be in consideration as a ‘unity’ appointment.

Perhaps most likely, however, is that Biden will dedicate the majority of his cabinet positions to former Obama officials, with the likes of former attorneys general Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, or Housing Secretary and Urban Development Secretary, Julian Castro. Castro is considered a shining light in the party, serving as the youngest member of Obama’s cabinet and mounting his own presidential campaign in 2020, dropping out prior to the first primary contests began.

Castro could be joined by several others who contested Biden in the Democratic primary. His vice president started off as a candidate for 2020, dropping out months before the Iowa caucus, and it is highly likely that prominent candidates from that race – who campaigned hard for him in the general election – will be rewarded with cabinet positions. Of these, Pete Buttigieg – the former Mayor of South Bend, who started the race on fire before quickly dropping off – is young and seen as a potential candidate of the future, a role in the cabinet could be the testing ground of his future credentials. Whilst his military career was not extensive, he served as a Lieutenant in Afghanistan, making him a potential pick for Veterans Affairs or Interior; Defence would typically go to a veteran of much higher rank.

Of his other rivals, it is unlikely that Amy Klobuchar could take a position, as a valuable ally in the Senate. Elizabeth Warren, although also a Senator, is far more likely to be selected for Cabinet due to her status on the left, showing a clear intention that Biden intends to draw his cabinet from across the political spectrum.

In 2008, Obama was criticised heavily for his cabinet essentially being handed to him by Citigroup executives, with many of the final picks having been recommended to him by the banks. It is unlikely that Biden will do the same, or face backlash from the left, so he may instead choose many senior politicians, rather than industry figures.

Of these, there are suggestions that his predecessor as the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, could return to the White House. After serving as First Lady for 8 years, then a New York Senator, she was Obama’s Secretary of State from 2008-12. Although her brand his considered toxic following the 2016 election, a nod to many senior Democratic figures would not be surprising.

What of the Obama’s themselves? Many considered that Biden’s candidacy and now presidency as a surrogate for Barack Obama, and although there is no precedent for a former president to serve in a future cabinet (this is not ‘Designated Survivor’) there is little doubt that Obama will be close to the White House. As a good friend of Biden’s, he will likely act as an unofficial advisor in some capacity, with some tipping either him – or perhaps more likely – his wife, Michelle Obama, taking a cabinet position.

As first lady – much like Hillary Clinton from 1992-2000 – she was extremely active, forging her own path and fighting on important issues, most notably on education, as she had done throughout her legal career. With Clinton setting the precedent for former first ladies to serve in cabinet, it is certainly not outside the realm of possibilities that she may take on a role that related closely to the issues she fought on as the first lady. Although she has expressed no interest – and clear distaste for – politics, the appointment of her to some role within the Biden administration is not impossible.

We likely won’t know for some weeks who Biden will appoint to his cabinet, the rumours have already begun and he likely already has many of the names lined up already. The direction he chooses to take will define his presidency and it will be notable, when the names are released, to see how a President Biden will govern.

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