President-elect Joe Biden’s first round of Cabinet picks is so far largely unifying the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party.
Biden has faced a difficult balancing act with his nominations. He’s under pressure from the left to not only appoint a diverse Cabinet, but to nominate individuals who reflect the progressive base that is an engine of the Democratic Party.
Yet he also must nominate people who can get confirmed by a Senate that may be in GOP hands if Republicans can win one of the two Georgia runoff races to be decided in January.
Biden so far has leaned on Obama administration veterans in announcing a slate of national security nominees. He’s also expected to nominate Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chairwoman from the Obama years, to become the nation’s first female Treasury secretary.
While Biden’s picks aren’t necessarily at the top of progressives’ wish list, so far the left is largely backing the president-elect’s choices.
Still, some progressives are putting the Biden team on notice that there are some potential nominees in the mix that they find unacceptable.
Following a report that Biden was considering former Chicago mayor and Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for U.S. trade representative instead of Transportation secretary, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said it was “shameful” and “concerning” that he was being considered for any administration post.
“What is so hard to understand about this? Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, referring to the 2014 police shooting of McDonald, an African American teenager.
“‘Less visible role’ doesn’t sound good either,” chimed in Representative Rashida Tlaib.
And on Tuesday, progressive groups Justice Democrats, Social Security Works and Data for Progress launched a public petition to campaign against Bruce Reed from being considered for leading the Office of Management and Budget.
They argued that Reed, a former Biden chief of staff who served as executive director of the Simpson-Bowles commission tasked with recommending deficit reduction proposals in 2010, is a “career deficit hawk.”
“Rejecting Reed will be a major test for the soul of the Biden presidency,” the petition states. “We need our government to spend money now ― to ensure vaccines are distributed, to keep people in their homes, to prevent small businesses from closing permanently, and to make sure Americans can stay home until the vaccine arrives!”
Tlaib also called on Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of State, to reverse the Trump administration measures to counter the international movement to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel, also known as BDS.
“I hope that Mr. Blinken and President-Elect Biden’s Administration will change course from Trump’s State Department & not target or suppress support of Palestinian human rights,” Tlaib tweeted.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, an influential Biden adviser, suggested on Tuesday that the transition team could offer an olive branch to progressives by selecting Senator Bernie Sanders for a spot in the incoming administration.
“There are a lot of young people out there, and some not-so-young people, like Bernie Sanders. I wish he would come into the administration. Bernie has a way of getting people to understand certain things. So I think that we are a big tent,” Clyburn said on CNN.
Biden is seeking to prioritize both diversity and policy expertise in his Cabinet and staffing picks. His Cabinet nominees unveiled this week include Alejandro Mayorkas, who would be the first Latino and immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security; Avril Haines as the first female Director of National Intelligence; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is Black, to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden is also nominating former Secretary of State John Kerry as special envoy to lead his administration’s efforts to combat climate change.
Representatives Pramila Jayapal, a Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair, called Mayorkas “a very strong, smart choice,” adding that “he will help us pass humane immigration reform & restore humanity to DHS.”
Representative Ilhan Omar called the slate of Biden Cabinet picks “a capable team that has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reorient our foreign policy toward justice.”
And Representative Ro Khanna praised Kerry as a “bold leader in the fight to tackle the climate crisis,” adding that it’s “so important he’s getting a seat at the table.”
Progressives had pushed for Warren to be Treasury secretary, but Yellen is more likely to have an easier time securing Senate confirmation.
The Senate confirmed Yellen on a bipartisan 56-26 vote in 2014 to serve as Federal Reserve chairwoman, including with the support of a handful of GOP senators who will still be in Congress next year.
Democrats could still win control of the Senate if they win both of the runoff elections in Georgia, a traditionally GOP-leaning state that Biden won in the presidential election. But either way, Biden will have to face a narrowly divided Senate no matter which party ends up with the majority.
With that in mind, Biden is pushing for consensus nominees as much as possible who aren’t overly polarizing.
“To the United States Senate, I hope these outstanding nominees receive a prompt hearing, and that we can work across the aisle in good faith to move forward for the country. Let’s begin that work to heal and unite,” Biden said on Tuesday in a statement to the press.