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What you need to know about Biden’s nominees


President-elect Joe Biden has moved swiftly to build out his administration, naming his choices for Cabinet posts such as secretary of state, secretary of defense and health and human services secretary.

Several of Biden’s picks would make history if confirmed by the United States Senate as the first woman or person of color to serve in their role. Many also have decades of experience in their field and served in President Barack Obama’s administration.

Here’s what you need to know about each of Biden’s nominees, who will all need Senate confirmation:

Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense

  • Austin would make history as the first Black person to lead the Pentagon if confirmed by the Senate.
  • Austin is a retired Army general and is the former commander of the US Central Command.
  • He has worked closely with Biden in the past. While Biden was vice president, Austin served as the vice chief of staff of the Army and commanding general of US forces in Iraq, and later the commander of CENTCOM. Biden and Austin had discussions on a range of issues, including those in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.
  • Austin would need a congressional waiver to be confirmed for the civilian post because federal law requires seven years of retirement from active duty before taking on the role. Austin retired from active-duty service only four years ago.

Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services

  • Becerra would be the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services if confirmed by the Senate.
  • He currently serves as California’s attorney general, and is the first Latino to hold that office in the history of the state.
  • Becerra has been a chief defender of the Affordable Care Act in court. As the Trump administration and a coalition of Republican state attorneys general fight to invalidate the landmark health reform law, Becerra has led a group of Democratic attorneys general arguing why the law remains valid.
  • Becerra served 12 terms in Congress as a member of the US House of Representatives and held several leadership posts. He was the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. He was also the first Latino to serve as a member of the Ways and Means Committee.
  • Becerra also served one term in the California Legislature and is a former deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice. 

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State

  • Blinken served in the Obama administration as the deputy secretary of state, assistant to the president and principal deputy national security adviser. He served as the national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden and deputy assistant to the president during Obama’s first term.
  • He has been a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and was the Democratic staff director at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
  • During the Clinton administration, Blinken served as a member of the National Security Council staff at the White House, and held roles as the special assistant to the president, senior director for European affairs and senior director for speechwriting and then strategic planning. He was Clinton’s chief foreign policy speechwriter.

Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation

  • Buttigieg would make history if confirmed by the Senate as the first out LGBTQ Cabinet secretary approved by the chamber.
  • The former South Bend, Indiana mayor is the youngest member named so far in Biden’s Cabinet at 38 years old.
  • He is the only one of Biden’s former Democratic presidential opponents to be named so far as a Cabinet secretary nominee.
  • The former mayor is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and rose to national prominence during the 2020 Democratic primary. Once an unknown mayor of a small city, Buttigieg became a top presidential contender and made history as the first LGBTQ presidential candidate to win primary delegates from a major party. 
  • Buttigieg served as mayor of South Bend from 2012 to 2020.
  • During his tenure as mayor, Buttigieg in 2014 deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer. 
  • After returning from his deployment, Buttigieg in 2015 came out as gay in an essay for the South Bend Tribune while serving as mayor. Later that year, Buttigieg won reelection. 
  • Prior to running for office, Buttigieg was a consultant at McKinsey & Company in Chicago.

Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education

  • Cardona, whose parents moved from Puerto Rico to Connecticut, would be another high-profile Latino in the Cabinet if confirmed by the US Senate. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus had urged Biden to select Cardona.
  • Cardona has been a leading proponent of sending children back to school, saying too many students are falling behind during virtual learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. Biden has set a goal of reopening most schools within the first 100 days of taking office.
  • Cardona was appointed Connecticut’s commissioner of education by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont in August 2019. 
  • He previously had two decades of experience as a public school educator from the city of Meriden, according to the state’s government website, after beginning his career as an elementary school teacher and later serving for 10 years as a school principal. In 2013, Cardona became the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

Merrick Garland, Attorney General

  • Garland is a federal judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which is charged with reviewing challenges to administrative agencies. President Bill Clinton appointed him to the court in 1997. Garland has served as chief judge on the court.
  • Obama nominated Garland to the Supreme Court after a vacancy was created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. But Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, refused for months to hold confirmation hearings or the required vote in the chamber.
  • There were concerns about the vacancy Garland’s selection as attorney general would create on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the possibility that Senate Republicans would block any nomination to that seat. But Democrats winning the Senate allayed those concerns.
  • Prior to his appointment as a US circuit judge, Garland served as principal associate deputy attorney general. He supervised the investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, led the investigation of the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta and led the investigation into Ted Kaczynski, also known as “The Unabomber.”

Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy

  • Granholm served two terms as governor of Michigan and was first elected in 2002. She was the first woman to be elected governor of the state, and in 2006 was elected with the largest number of votes ever cast at the time for the state, according to her biography page on the state’s official website.
  • Granholm has long taken a deep interest in energy issues and was considered to be a top candidate for Energy secretary if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016.
  • Prior to being elected governor, Granholm was elected as the state’s attorney general in 1998, and was also the first woman to serve in that role.
  • As governor of Michigan, Granholm had worked closely with the auto industry, the dominant industry in the Great Lakes State, which could help Biden as he attempts to move the country toward electric vehicles.

Isabel Guzman, Small Business Administrator

  • Guzman currently serves as the director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate, a government office that works to support and grow small businesses in America’s most populous state.
  • Prior to taking over the state office, Guzman was the deputy chief of staff and senior adviser at the Small Business Administration, the office she will now lead.
  • Before her career in public service, Guzman was a small business entrepreneur.

Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior

  • If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary. She is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, and also has Jemez Pueblo heritage, according to the biography on her congressional website.
  • Haaland made history in 2018 when she was elected as one of the two first female Native Americans in Congress.
  • Haaland represents New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which covers most of Albuquerque.
  • In 2016, Haaland traveled to North Dakota to take part in the protests over plans to build a pipeline underneath a key source of water for the Standing Rock Reservation. 
  • She was the chair of New Mexico’s Democratic Party, and the first Native American woman in the country to lead a state party.

Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence

  • Haines would become the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence if confirmed by the Senate.
  • Haines served as assistant to the president and principal deputy national security adviser to Obama. She chaired the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee, which is responsible for formulating the administration’s national security and foreign policy.
  • Haines previously served as the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Haines was also legal adviser to the NSC. She served as deputy chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Biden served as chairman.

Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

  • Fudge has represented Ohio’s 11th Congressional District since 2008.
  • She previously chaired the Congressional Black Caucus. The congresswoman currently chairs the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Elections and the Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations.
  • In 2018, Fudge publicly weighed a bid against Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House, but ultimately threw her support behind Pelosi, who won reelection.
  • Prior to running for Congress, Fudge made history as the first woman and first African American to be elected mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio. She served as mayor from 2000 to 2008. 

Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Mallory is the director of regulatory policy at the nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center.
  • She previously served as the executive director and senior counsel for the Conservation Litigation Project, which supports protection and conservation on public lands.
  • During the Obama administration, Mallory served as the general counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She previously served as the acting general counsel and the principal deputy general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Prior to joining the EPA, Mallory was a director at the environmental law firm Beveridge and Diamond. 

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security

  • Mayorkas would be the first Latino and immigrant as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security if confirmed by the Senate.
  • He was deputy secretary of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, and served as the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • While at USCIS, Mayorkas oversaw the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was an executive action under Obama that protected young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation. President Donald Trump moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2017 but was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court from doing so.

Denis McDonough, Veterans Affairs Secretary

  • McDonough served as chief of staff during Obama’s entire second term, and also worked as deputy national security adviser. He developed a close relationship with Biden while serving in those positions.
  • He chaired the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee, which is responsible for formulating the administration’s national security and foreign policy. McDonough also previously served as the chief of staff for the national security staff and as the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. 
  • Since leaving the White House, McDonough has joined the Markle Foundation, which aims to create a labor market that allows all Americans to succeed in the digital economy, as a senior adviser.

Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General

  • Murthy previously served as the US surgeon general under the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017.
  • As surgeon general under Obama, Murthy helped lead the national response to the Ebola and Zika viruses and the opioid crisis, among other health challenges.
  • Murthy has been a top health adviser to Biden since the campaign. He was part of Biden’s public health advisory committee as the pandemic first took hold in the US and has been serving as a co-chair of the President-elect’s Covid-19 advisory board during the transition.
  • Murthy faced opposition from some Republicans during his Senate confirmation process in 2014 because of his characterization of gun violence in the US as a public health crisis. He was ultimately narrowly confirmed, but could face an uphill battle in the Senate once again if Republicans keep a majority in the chamber. 

Gina Raimondo, Commerce Secretary

  • Raimondo is the first woman governor of Rhode Island, and has served in the role since her election in 2014.
  • She was among the women considered to serve as Biden’s vice president, and has been praised for her leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Prior to serving as governor, Raimondo was elected to serve as general treasurer of Rhode Island in 2010. She also co-founded Point Judith Capital, an early stage venture capital firm.
  • Raimondo was also considered for Biden’s health and human services secretary, but The New York Times reported that labor unions helped block Raimondo from becoming his pick to lead HHS because of her record on pension changes.

Michael Regan, EPA Administrator

  • If confirmed by the US Senate, Regan would be the first African American man to lead the EPA.
  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, named Regan as the secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality in January 2017. The agency’s mission is to protect the state’s environment and natural resources.
  • Regan previously led the Environmental Defense Fund’s efforts to combat the impacts of the climate crisis and air pollution, according to the state’s government website. He also worked at the EPA during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Cecilia Rouse, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

  • Rouse would be the first woman of color to chair the Council of Economic Advisers if confirmed by the Senate.
  • Rouse has served as the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, as well as a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University.
  • Rouse previously served as a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. She also worked at the National Economic Council in the Clinton administration as a special assistant to the president.

Katherine Tai, US Trade Representative

  • Tai would be the first woman of color to serve as US trade representative if confirmed by the Senate.
  • Tai’s nomination will be seen as a clear sign that Biden is serious about his campaign promise to enforce trade rules on China. She is seen as an expert on China trade policy, and oversaw trade enforcement for China during the Obama administration.
  • She currently is the top Democratic trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • Tai played a key role in negotiating trade policy for Democrats in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which came under Trump’s administration and replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Neera Tanden, Director of the Office of Management and Budget

  • Tanden would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to become director of the Office of Management and Budget if confirmed by the Senate.
  • Tanden is the CEO and president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, and is the CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
  • Biden’s transition team is bracing for a tough Senate confirmation battle for Tanden, who is already facing fierce opposition from Senate Republicans. Tanden has frequently sparred with Republicans and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on Twitter.
  • Tanden previously served in the Obama and Clinton administrations. She was a senior adviser for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, and also served as the director of domestic policy for the Obama campaign. She was the policy director for Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign, and worked in Clinton’s Senate office.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations

  • Thomas-Greenfield is a career diplomat who would return to public service after retiring from a 35-year career with the US Foreign Service in 2017.
  • Under the Obama administration, Thomas-Greenfield served as the assistant secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs from 2013 to 2017. Prior to that post, she served as director general of the Foreign Service and director of human resources.
  • Thomas-Greenfield has served as an ambassador to Liberia, and has also been posted to Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica.
  • Thomas-Greenfield served as principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs from 2006 to 2008 and as deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration from 2004 to 2006.
  • Since retiring in 2017, Thomas-Greenfield has led the Africa practice at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a diplomacy firm chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary

  • Vilsack served as agriculture secretary for the entirety of President Barack Obama’s time in the White House. He was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate in January 2009.
  • Vilsack is also the former governor of Iowa — in 1998, he became the first Democrat elected governor of the state in more than 30 years. He served from 1999 to 2007. 
  • In 2006, Vilsack filed a statement of candidacy for the 2008 presidential race, but he dropped out in February 2007. He ultimately endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and became co-chairman of her national campaign.
  • After stepping down as agriculture secretary in 2017, Vilsack became the president and CEO of the US Dairy Export Council.

Marty Walsh, Labor Secretary

  • Walsh has served as mayor of Boston after his election in 2013 and is a veteran union operative.
  • Walsh first joined the Laborers’ Union Local 223 at age 21. By 2011, he had risen to lead Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council, a group that represents ironworker and electrician unions, among others.
  • Walsh’s selection is a victory for AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who rallied his federation of 56 unions to back the Boston mayor soon after Biden won the election.
  • Walsh and Biden have a longstanding relationship. When Walsh won Boston’s mayoral race in 2013, the then-vice president called Walsh to congratulate him.
  • Walsh was also a rumored potential Labor pick in 2016 had Hillary Clinton won the presidency.

Janet Yellen, Treasury Secretary

  • Yellen would make history as the first woman to serve as Treasury secretary if confirmed by the Senate.
  • Yellen already made history as the first woman to have chaired the Federal Reserve, serving from 2014 to 2018. She previously served for four years as the vice chair of the board, and president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco for four years prior to that.
  • Yellen was also chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 1997 to 1999.

This story will be updated with additional nominees.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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