While Donald Trump frantically works to overturn the election results, Joe Biden has pushed forward with his transition, building the team with which he’ll address the mounting crises facing the country in two months. Earlier this week, the president-elect added nine top aides to his White House, including his campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, who will be his deputy chief of staff, and ally Cedric Richmond, who will be a senior adviser and director of the Office of Public Engagement. On Friday, he announced four more hires, all veterans of the Obama administration. And he’s expected to begin announcing Cabinet nominees soon. The picks are reflective of what’s expected to be a diverse, experienced administration—even as some of the names under consideration spark controversy.
So far, there haven’t been any big surprises. Figures like Richmond and Ron Klain, who will serve as his chief of staff, are trusted allies with deep ties to Biden and who, like him, are seen as part of the Washington establishment. But Biden’s administration is also shaping up to be diverse, in keeping with his transition team, and some officials he’s picked or is considering have drawn approval from both progressive and moderate Democrats. The selection of Klain, who was Biden’s chief of staff as vice president, was welcomed by everyone from Chris Coons, one of Biden’s close allies, to Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “An encouraging choice,” the latter tweeted.
Biden has promised his pick for Treasury secretary would similarly thread the needle and please both factions of the party, leading to speculation that former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen will be tapped for the role. He’s also said to be vetting New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland as his possible Interior Secretary, which would make her the first Native American to serve in a Cabinet. A coalition of moderate and progressive Democrats have lobbied for Biden to pick Haaland, telling the president-elect in a letter this week that he could “make history by giving Native Americans a seat at the Cabinet table for the first time.” Among the other Cabinet roles, some of the names Biden is considering seem, in part, like symbolic rebukes of the Trump era. He is said to be considering both Sally Yates, who was fired as deputy attorney general l0 days into Trump’s term after refusing to defend his travel ban, and Merrick Garland, whose nomination to the Supreme Court by Barack Obama was stonewalled by Mitch McConnell and the GOP, to lead the Justice department.
While his team has been seen as strong or at least palatable by most Democrats so far, there have been some areas of controversy. He has faced blowback for hiring Richmond, thanks to the Louisiana Democrat’s ties to the fossil fuel industry, and for adding Michael McCabe, a DuPont adviser, to his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. More explosive still are the rumors that he’s considering former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be his Transportation secretary; having fought to keep video of Laquan McDonald’s murder by a Chicago police officer from being released publicly, Emanuel’s nomination would likely be seen as an affront to the Black Americans whose votes helped Biden win the presidency. “Someone like Rahm Emanuel would be a pretty divisive pick,” Ocasio-Cortez told the New York Times. “And it would signal, I think, a hostile approach to the grassroots and the progressive wing of the party.”
Of course, Biden doesn’t only have to navigate divisions within his own party; should Republicans maintain control of the Senate, more progressive picks could face difficult confirmation battles. As Politico reported Friday, the GOP has indicated it’ll confirm his picks—if the people he nominates are, as Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski put it, “mainstream.” “If he does that, sure,” Murkowski said. “I am going to work with him.”
That Biden has to consider what Senate Republicans regard as “mainstream” is frustrating, especially because a majority of those same lawmakers have yet to publicly acknowledge his election win, enabling the Trump administration as it impedes his transition to the White House. But Team Biden has remained confident, moving ahead with its work while pushing Republicans to accept reality and dismissing Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to overturn the election as a desperate “spectacle.”
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