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President-Elect Biden’s Historic Nominations and Appointments
By Miriam Edelman

Since winning the 2020 presidential election, President-Elect Joe Biden has made historic nominations and appointments, hailing his proposed cabinet as one “that looks like America.” Biden says he wants to have the “most diverse cabinet in history.” If the Senate confirms his nominees, he is on his way to achieving that goal.

After the Electoral College vote on December 14, Biden said his administration would be led by a “cabinet of firsts.”

Biden’s cabinet would be the most diverse in American history in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. If Biden’s female nominees were all confirmed, the cabinet would have the highest number of females in U.S. history. (The current record is eight.)

In the Biden Administration, females would serve in three major positions (vice president, secretary of the treasury, and director of national intelligences).

The cabinet consists of 15 departmental secretaries and other positions of “cabinet rank.” Biden’s 15 cabinet secretary nominees are 40% people of color and one-third women. Their racial/ethnic and gender breakdown is six white men, three white women, one Black man, one Black woman, three Hispanic men, and one Native American woman.

Despite this historic amount of diversity, for the first time in more than 20 years, there will not be an Asian American and Pacific Island (AAPI) individual as a cabinet secretary. There has been at least one AAPI cabinet secretary since President Bill Clinton’s administration. Even so, Biden will have the highest-ranking AAPI government official in U.S. history (Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris), AAPI cabinet members, and other top AAPI office holders.

Biden’s 10 remaining cabinet-level nominees are 70% people of color and 70% women. They consist of two white men, one Black man, one white woman, two Black women, one Black/Asian-American woman, two Asian women, and one Hispanic woman.

Many of Biden’s cabinet nominees and others up for Senate confirmation would make history. Pete Buttigieg and Deb Haaland are especially monumental. Nominated to be Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg, who was the first openly gay major political party presidential candidate to win delegates, would be the first openly gay and the first Maltese-American cabinet member. Nominated to be Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland, who in 2018 became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, would be the first Native American cabinet secretary. This selection is especially meaningful, as the Interior Department was set up “to basically disenfranchise and colonize Native Americans.”

Many potential national security and foreign relations officials would be groundbreaking. Nominated to be the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines would be the first female leader of U.S. intelligence. Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas could become the first Hispanic to be secretary of the relatively new Department of Homeland Security. Lloyd Austin would be the first Black Secretary of Defense. Chinese speaker Katherine Tai would be the first female of color U.S. Trade Representative.

Biden’s finance team includes multiple women and people of color. Janet Yellen, who became the first female chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in 2014, would be the first female Secretary of the Treasury. She also would be the first person to chair the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, lead the Treasury Department, and chair the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Wally Adeyemo would be the first Black Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Cecilia Rouse would be the first female of color Council of Economic Advisers Chair. Neena Tanden would be the first Indian-American and female of color Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Historic nominees would lead on health, the environment, and science. Xavier Becerra would be the first Hispanic Secretary of Health and Human Services. Michael Regen would be the first Black male Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. Brenda Mallory would be the first Black Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Nominated to be Assistant Health Secretary, Rachel Levine would be the first Senate-confirmed openly transgender federal employee and the United States’ highest-ranked transgender official in history. Eric Lander, the lead author on the first paper about the human genome, would be the first life scientist to the Director of the Office of Science and Technology. For the first time, this position is Cabinet-ranked.

Many of Biden’s appointees that do not need Senate confirmation are also historic. Some communication and other leaders will be female. For the first time, the senior White House communications group will be composed only of females. Females of color will hold most (four of the seven) of the top communications positions. Symone Sanders will be the first African-American to be Chief Spokesman to the Vice President. Ashley Williams will be the first African-American female Deputy Director of Oval Office Operations.

Biden is adding two major environmental positions. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, the Democratic 2004 Presidential nominee, will be the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Hence, he will be the first-ever National Security Council climate change-dedicated official. Gina McCarthy will be Kerry’s domestic counterpart as the first-ever head of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. As the leader of the incoming Biden Administration’s task force on COVID-19 equity, Marcella Nunez-Smith will be the first senior level official assigned to work on health care equity.

Let these individuals inspire everyone. As Harris’ mother said to her, “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” Harris, who has been inspired by Shirley Chisholm, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Fannie Lou Hamer, gives hope to women and girls everywhere. Many women will feel that they can achieve at high levels because they will finally see a woman in one of the nation’s top two government positions.

As Glynda Carr, the president and CEO of Higher Heights, said about Harris, “She’s literally the blueprint to women’s political possibility and now she is stepping literally into the Oval Office and she’s going to put an intersectional lens on everything this administration does from a gender or race lens.”

The other ground-breaking government officials also can serve as role models to everyone.
There could be more history soon. If Yellen were confirmed, then a record three (Vice President, Speaker of the House, and Secretary of the Treasury) of the first five people in the Presidential Order of Succession would be female. In addition, Biden already pledged to appoint the first Black female U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

— Native Washingtonian Miriam Edelman graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University, with majors in political science and urban studies and a concentration in history. For almost five years, she worked on Capitol Hill in personal offices and on committees in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. In May 2012, she graduated with a master’s in public administration from Cornell University, where she was inducted into Pi Alpha Alpha, the national honorary society for public administration. Primarily for her work founding the Jade Moore Forum on American Politics in memory of her late friend, Edelman was one of two graduate student recipients of the Cornell-wide Distinguished Leadership Award. She also has a master’s of science in social work (focusing on policy) from Columbia University. She aims to continue her career in public service.