What to expect from Joe Biden’s presidency
President Joe Biden has constructed his cabinet and announced his administrative picks, pending Senate confirmation, as he prepares for his presidency.
The cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and leaders in 15 executive departments, in addition to other key positions given cabinet-level authority.
Biden currently awaits Congress’s confirmation of his nominees, specifically those that will assume national security and economic policy positions.
Domestic security has become even more important in the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, but impeachment proceedings started against former President Donald Trump could slow the Senate’s confirmation process, said UH political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus.
“Most new administrations need a fairly wide runway to be able to accomplish their goals in the first 100 days, so anything else on that agenda is going to complicate that,” Rottinghaus said.
“The Senate has dealt with these sorts of things before in big issues on the national agenda as well as trying to confirm an incoming administration’s appointees. The process usually has the Senate split the days between one big national issue that they’re working on, and then half the day is spent dealing with the incoming administration and their appointees.”
The Senate has scheduled hearings for four key officials thus far.
Hearings to confirm retired four-star Army general Lloyd Austin as defense secretary, economist Janet Yellen as treasury secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas for the homeland security secretary and longtime aide Antony Blinken for secretary of state will take place on Jan. 19.
College Democrats finance chair Henry Teccsi said Biden’s cabinet and administrative picks have come with little surprise.
“No picks in general have been of any surprise to us, other than a handful of selections which we might have believed would’ve been better elsewhere,” Tessci said. “(Biden) kind of did what we expected of him by picking regular centrists.”
While it’s unclear how soon the Senate will vote on Biden’s picks, he plans to station career officials as interim agency heads in the meantime.
“It’ll be a rare event for some key positions to not be filled, but there is in place in every agency, a sort of continuity plan, that allows things to function even without an agency head in place,” Rottinghaus said.
In all, Senate confirmation for Biden’s cabinet picks could take approximately seven months, Rottinghaus said.
Here’s a selection of who Biden has selected. You can view the full list here.
The riot at the Capitol has raised national security concerns about more unrest.
“Everyone’s on pins and needles because of what happened, and the expectations of what could happen in the next few weeks and even the next few months,” Rottinghaus said. “This increases the importance of having key staff and key personnel in place.”
Teccsi agrees that the Capitol attack highlights the necessity of domestic security efforts.
“The attacks on the Capitol have shaken all of us and we still look as to what will happen next in light of these events,” Teccsi said. “I’m sure I can speak for all Americans when I say that these positions are more important now than ever, and that we need adults in these positions who will keep everyone safe and ensure these things don’t happen again.”
Biden’s selected officials will oversee the nation’s intelligence and defense, engage with world leaders and work with international blocs. Among those chosen are several picks who will make history for the position if they receive Senate confirmation.
Biden’s longtime aide, Blinken, has been nominated to serve as secretary of state. Blinken worked as the deputy secretary of state and the deputy national security adviser during the former President Barack Obama’s administration. If confirmed, he will lead foreign policy and worldwide diplomacy for the president.
Blinken has repeatedly vocalized his multilateral belief in the importance of working with allies and within international treaties, a departure from Trump administration’s “America first” tact with international affairs.
Biden has nominated Mayorkas to serve as the secretary of homeland security, in which position he will advise the president on security issues within the United States, including counter-terrorism and cybersecurity. If confirmed, Mayorkas will be the first immigrant and the first Latino to be selected for the role.
Austin has been named Biden’s pick for secretary of defense, although he will need to gain congressional exemption due to his recent retirement from service at the Pentagon.
If Austin remains unconfirmed by Jan. 20, Biden will be one of two presidents in modern history to not have the position filled by day one.
Economic, financial and trade policy
The pandemic has generated far-reaching economic consequences that extend beyond immediate decline.
The Biden administration’s economic, financial and trade policy heads will need to be on the same page to revive the economy, Rottinghaus said.
“I think that they need a consistent strategy and they need to have clear execution. That’s been something that the Trump administration has been challenged on and the Biden team cannot afford to have any delays on this,” Rottinghaus said.
“(The Biden administration) have made promises that are going to be impossible to keep if they aren’t all really detail-oriented, aren’t dedicated to the goal and don’t execute well.”
Biden has named Yellen as his nominee for secretary of the treasury, where she would advise the president on economic policy and the financial system.
If selected, she will be the first woman to run the department.
But Yellen is no stranger to breaking barriers; the economist came into the profession at a time when few women entered the male-dominated field and went on to become the first woman to run the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018.
Cecilia Rouse, current dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, has been nominated as the chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers.
The labor economist previously served as a member of the CEA during the Obama administration and worked on the issue of long-term unemployment following the 2008 financial crisis.
If confirmed, Rouse will be the first African American to chair the CEA.
Biden has selected the House Ways and Means committee’s chief trade lawyer, Katherine Tai, as the nominee to be the U.S. trade representative.
She has previously assisted in passing the revised North America Free Trade Agreement and prosecuted several Chinese trade practice cases.
If confirmed, Tai will be the first woman of color to hold the position.
Additional cabinet members
Biden has named picks for officials across departments to run the White House and to execute his policy agenda.
This includes Ron Klain, who has been named as the White House chief of staff.
In addition to serving as Biden’s chief of staff during the latter’s vice-presidency, Klain also worked as the “Ebola czar” under Obama when the disease broke out in 2014. His experience coordinating agencies in response to disease outbreak makes him a good pick for the position, Rottinghaus said.
“When we study agency staffing, usually there’s a trade-off between political connection … And substantive skill in an area. In this case, Klain’s got both,” Rottinghaus said. “This is a good position and a good choice because it’s hard to maximize both responsive and neutral competence.”
“The neutral competence is that you’re objectively qualified for a job, and then responsive competence is that you’re going to watch the president’s back,” Rottinghaus added.
More specifically tasked with the nation’s health concerns, Xavier Becerra has been nominated to serve as the secretary of health and human services.
The California attorney general and former congressman has previously led a campaign of 20 states and Washington, D.C., to protect the Affordable Care Act.
If confirmed, Becerra will be tasked with handling the pandemic that has killed almost 400,000 people nationwide. He will also begin overseeing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Health.
He would make history as the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Changes may be coming to public health, as well as education.
Biden has named Miguel Cardona as his pick to serve as the secretary of education. Cardona, the Connecticut education commissioner since 2019, will be responsible for advising the president on education policy and overseeing financial aid for students.
His appointment could lead to significant changes in debt relief policy, but any proposal would have to be couched in larger budgetary discussions.
“One of the big issues the Biden administration will confront is whether or not to provide for debt relief for students who are in more serious debt,” Rottinghaus said.
“There have been some proposals floated that would potentially alleviate the debt of tens of millions of students or former students. That requires Congress to act, that’s going to be a tough lift because you’ve got some deficit hawks in the Republican and Democratic parties who might object.”