The Incoming Biden Team: A Review

Biden’s Cabinet and Cabinet-level nominations and appointments are complete. He didn’t ask me, but I think overall he gets a ‘B+.’ An ‘A’ for diversity (especially if you include Vice President Kamala Harris!), and definitely an ‘A+’ in categories we should be able to take for granted, like honesty, intelligence, experience, commitment to the citizens and not the president, and, actually understanding the mission of the agency or position. (It is unbelievable that has to be pointed out, isn’t it?)

Were it up to me, I’d name a cabinet full of people from the Sanders-Warren-Brown-Merkley wing of the party.  But I never expected him to name a whole team of progressives, so I tempered my expectations, and am trying to be realistic in my review.

Least favorite picks

I am most troubled by him putting a general in charge of the Pentagon (George Austin), which I think is a terrible idea, and also puts Democratic senators who opposed Trump’s appointment of a general there in an awkward position. I also dislike the nomination of Tom Vilsack at Agriculture. He is competent and experienced, but is not what is needed right now. A more dynamic appointment, such as Congresswoman Marcia Fudge would have been an excellent choice. She has served on the House Agriculture Committee and would give much needed attention to the often-overlooked nutrition-related responsibilities of the department. She also is Black, which Black farmers had been understandably hoping for.  Instead, Biden pigeon-holed Fudge into HUD, where she has little relevant experience.

Good choices that could have been better

I was rooting for Julie Su, California’s Secretary of Labor, for the Labor Department because the United Farm Workers supported her, and it would be nice to see more prominent Asian Americans, who will be under-represented in the Biden Administration. Biden appointed Boston Mayor Martin Walsh instead.  Walsh does have a strong labor background and was supported by the AFL-CIO, so at least he will be strongly pro-labor, which is so much needed after four years of Trump’s anti-labor goons who headed that department.

It is great to see a classroom teacher, Connecticut commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona, nominated to lead the Department of Education. I would have preferred a Black person like former Massachusetts Governor Patrick Duval as Attorney General at the Justice Department, although Judge Merrick Garland will be excellent, too. “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg at Transportation is sort of a weird choice, but I guess Biden thinks he will be a good salesperson for his infrastructure plan. I thought Buttigieg would have been better for Veterans Affairs, where Biden appointed non-veteran Denis McDonough.

Foreign policy and security: Solid

Biden’s foreign policy and security team at the State Department, United Nations, Homeland Security, and intelligence and trade agencies all seem well-qualified and extremely knowledgeable and are a diverse demographic group— all in contrast to the destructive group that reigned under Trump. Most importantly, they are all committed to Biden’s determination to bring the United States back into the world community. It is critical for the US to once again be a leader in peace treaties, trade agreements, and international alliances, instead of the globe-wrecking embarrassment we have been for the past four years.

Financial team: On the watch list

The Biden financial team is OK—some Wall Streeters but apparently they are reform types, and Janet Yellen at Treasury and Jared Bernstein on the Council of Economic Advisors are particularly good. But that’s the group I am most wary of. I hope that Biden does not follow Obama’s pattern of being too friendly to Wall Street and corporate interests, and I am depending on Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and others in Congress to keep him on the right path.

The best

I saved the best nominations for last: environment and health. The inauguration will bring with it a lifesaving, critical breath of fresh air. What a change! A president who places supreme importance on science, and medicine, and the environment. This may be Biden’s most important legacy.

Biden’s environment and climate team is excellent.  John Kerry, Jennifer Granholm, Michael Regan, Gina McCarthy, and Brenda Mallory are all strong and proven environmentalists and will make fighting climate change and reversing the disastrous war on the environment of the past four years the highest priority. Especially notable is Rep. Deb Haaland leading the Interior Department—which is exciting and groundbreaking. As the first Native American to be Interior Secretary, she will restore respect for our national parks and wilderness areas, and certainly will make the Bureau of Indian Affairs an honorable and respected agency that will earn the trust of American Indians.

I don’t expect his healthcare team to push for single-payer or Medicare for All but I hope they will implement major improvements. Xavier Becerra, a former Congressman and currently the California Attorney General, seems like a good choice at Health and Human Services. He has worked on healthcare issues and will also be the first Latino to direct the department.

The most exciting appointees

Going hand in hand with environment and health care are science and medicine, and this is perhaps the best and most exciting area of Biden’s nominations.  It is clear we will have an administration that actually believes in science!  Biden announced he is making his science advisor, Eric Lander, a member of his Cabinet.  The group he has appointed to lead the critical medical team that will take on Covid-19 are all respected doctors with literally decades of experience fighting epidemics. Doctors Anthony Fauci, David Kessler, Vivek Murthy, Marcella Nunez-Smith, and Rochelle Walensky, will all ensure that our government finally has a plan to stop and reverse the spread. Along with Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients and Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who both have experience on the administrative side of health crises, Biden has a team that will address the pandemic for the public health emergency that it is. Hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved, quite literally.

And at the DNC..

Not in the realm of government, but related to Biden appointments, is his pick to head the Democratic National Committee. I think Jaime Harrison is an excellent choice. Stacy Abrams would have been great, too, but I am sure she will be doing her desperately needed thing wherever she is!