Here is a look at the Biden-Harris transition's picks for both Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions

By Virginia Chamlee and Adam Carlson
Updated December 23, 2020 05:49 PM
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President-elect Joe Biden
| Credit: Mark Makela/Getty

President-elect Joe Biden has been widely expected to staff his administration with a mix of experienced advisers and credentialed experts from Washington, D.C., as well as the kinds of diverse faces he says ensure his administration reflects the country.

So far, that is what he has done. (Though some of his choices have drawn backlash from particular groups.)

In the month since he won the election against Donald Trump, Biden has been building out his Cabinet with a who's-who of Washington — including former Fed Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and former Secretary of State John Kerry — before assuming office in late January.

Biden's Cabinet will include his vice president and the heads of 15 executive departments.

In addition, a handful of other positions — including White House chief of staff, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and director of national intelligence — will have a Cabinet-level rank under Biden.

Most of his nominees will require Senate confirmation, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that process should begin once the last two Senate races are concluded with the Georgia runoff elections on Jan. 5.

(Republicans, many of whom are still supporting Trump's baseless claims of election fraud, have given conflicting views of Biden's picks — some have been greeted without controversy while others inspired a stronger reaction.)

In a statement at the time he announced his first round of picks, in November, Biden called his choices “experienced, crisis-tested leaders who are ready to hit the ground running on day one."

"These officials will start working immediately to rebuild our institutions, renew and reimagine American leadership to keep Americans safe at home and abroad, and address the defining challenges of our time — from infectious disease, to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber threats, and climate change," he said then.

Below, a look at the Biden-Harris transition's picks, so far, for both Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions.

Cabinet Picks

Antony Blinken
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Secretary of State: Anthony Blinken

Described by the New York Times as Biden's "closest foreign policy adviser," Blinken, 58, previously worked with the now president-elect during his Senate tenure. Blinken began his career at the State Department under the Clinton administration.

On the campaign trail and since the election, Biden has framed his foreign policy as a reversal of Trump in many ways — resuming international partnerships with traditional allies without the go-it-alone brashness and skepticism (or outsider confidence, depending on the view) of Trumpism.

In recent years, Blinken been vocal about the essential role of U.S. leadership and the importance of working with American allies — and he has been critical of Trump's brand of "America first" diplomacy.

"The president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day," Blinken said of Trump to the Associated Press last year.

Observers have scrutinized Blinken's private sector work, though, which they say complicate Biden's promise to "restore ethics in government."  As The Washington Post reported, Blinken founded a consulting firm that could prove a conflict, as it promises a bridge from “the Situation Room to the Board Room.” 

Janet Yellen
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Secretary of the Treasury: Janet Yellen

If confirmed, Yellen, 74, will be the first female Treasury secretary in U.S. history.

A former professor at the University of California, Berkeley, she served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton and later as chair of the Federal Reserve, a post for which she was nominated by then-President Barack Obama.

Yellen's decades-long career at the upper echelon of American fiscal policy will likely prove integral to her role overseeing one of the incoming administration's biggest priorities: righting the economy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Alejandro Mayorkas
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Secretary of Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas

The son of a Cuban native, Mayorkas, 61, came to the U.S. as a child in 1960, as a result of the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro.

In a statement released after his selection was announced, Mayorkas drew on his family's history: “When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. Now, I have been nominated to be the DHS Secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones.”

Among the Department of Homeland Security's vast operations, Mayorkas will oversee immigration policy and border security — regularly one of the most fraught areas of responsibility for the federal government.

He will be the first Latino tapped to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Biden campaigned in part on reforming some of Trump's incendiary anti-immigration decisions (which the latter had successfully campaigned on in 2016).

Xavier Becerra
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Secretary of Health and Human Services: Xavier Becerra

California Attorney General Becerra, 62, is Biden's pick to lead a department that will lead the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In a press release sent by the Biden transition team on Monday, the president-elect said Becerra would be part of a “trusted and accomplished team of leaders" who "will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced — getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones." 

As The New York Times reports, Becerra would be the first Latino to run the department.

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin
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Secretary of Defense: Lloyd Austin

Biden's choice for defense secretary — a recently retired Army general — is one of his more controversial picks even as it is history-making.

Lloyd Austin would be the first Black person to run the Pentagon. But his confirmation will require Congress to waive a law that bars former military officers from becoming defense secretary within seven years of active duty.

President Trump asked Congress to waive the same law for his first nominee for defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, which proved controversial among Democrats. Some progressives criticized Austin's selection, saying — like Mattis — it would weaken civilian oversight of the armed forces.

In an op-ed for The Atlantic, Biden said Austin, 67, would do an "outstanding job" in the role.

"In his more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin met every challenge with extraordinary skill and profound personal decency," the president-elect wrote. "He is a true and tested soldier and leader."

Marcia Fudge
| Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Marcia Fudge

The congresswoman and former Warrensville Heights, Ohio, mayor would — if confirmed — likely play a major role in the Biden administration’s response to the housing crisis brought only by the pandemic, which could lead to millions of evictions come the new year. 

Fudge, 68, had reportedly lobbied for the position of agriculture secretary and, according to Politico, had openly criticized administrations that limit people of color to only specific cabinet positions, including at HUD.

"As this country becomes more and more diverse, we're going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in," the Ohio representative previously said. "You know, it's always ‘we want to put the Black person in labor or HUD.' "

Appearing Friday along with other Biden nominees, Fudge thanked him and the vice president-elect "for the opportunity to join this remarkable team and work on behalf of people in every city and community, to serve all those who are struggling and looking for the fair shot we all deserve."

Biden, in introducing Fudge, seemed to acknowledge the push to nominate elsewhere — saying in an aside that she could "do many jobs beyond the one I’m asking her to do."

Tom Vilsack
| Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Secretary of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack

The role of secretary of agriculture will be nothing new for Vilsack, who served in the same role for eight years under President Obama. Biden faced some criticism for the appointment of Vilsack, 69, over Fudge, who had reportedly planned to shift the agriculture agency’s focus from farming and toward hunger. 

In addition to supporting the farming industry, the USDA funds programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

Biden has defended his picks to date as “the most diverse cabinet anyone in American history has ever announced," though Vilsak himself is viewed as a safe choice and currently serves as chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Denis McDonough
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Secretary of Veteran Affairs: Denis McDonough

McDonough, a longtime Obama-Biden lieutenant who was a White House chief of staff and deputy national security adviser after time spent as a congressional aide, said Friday that his mandate as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs was clear.

"Fight like hell for our veterans," is what McDonough, 51, says Biden told him.

"We’re going to fight like hell to give our veterans and their families the healthcare, respect and dignity that they deserve," McDonough said Friday, calling his work a "sacred obligation."

The Biden transition team described McDonough's career as one that showed how he "knows how to pull every lever of government to effectively serve our veterans and their families."

His nomination drew criticism from some veterans, however, because he had not previously served in the military.

Pete Buttigieg
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Secretary of Transportation: Pete Buttigieg

The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor was announced as Biden's selection for transportation secretary on Tuesday.

The 38-year-old Navy veteran would be the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet member. (Richard Grenell, whom President Trump named acting director of national intelligence for several months this year, is openly gay but was not nominated for that position permanently.)

In a tweet announcing his selection, Biden called Buttigieg, a former rival in the Democratic priamry, "a leader, patriot, and problem-solver" who "speaks to the best of who we are as a nation."

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Buttigieg called for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan and a promise to upgrade roads and public transportation.

Jennifer Granholm
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Energy Secretary: Jennifer Granholm

As the former governor of Michigan, 61-year-old Granholm is experienced in dealing with the national auto industry and has been a vocal proponent of zero-emissions vehicles. That experience could prove integral in helping the incoming administration fulfill its goal of investing in clean energy and moving away from fossil fuels.

Still, Granholm's past ties to chemical and energy companies have raised eyebrows. As CNBC reported, her past campaigns have received donations from firms such as CMS Energy and DTE and Consumers Energy, which have previously been regulated by the department she's now been nominated to lead.

Following the transition's announcement of Granholm as its nominee to lead the department, she tweeted to express her gratitude to the president-elect, writing, "I’m honored that President-elect @joeBiden has placed his faith in me as his Energy Secretary nominee. We have an opportunity to build back better while creating millions of jobs — we can do it!"

Rep. Deb Haaland
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Interior Secretary: Deb Haaland

Another history-making selection, Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary if confirmed to lead the Department of the Interior.

The role that would have Haaland oversee the agency responsible for fulfilling America's treaties with Indigenous people and managing public land.

The New Mexico representative, 60, noted the significance of her nomination in a tweet sent following Biden's announcement: "A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior. Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve."

In a statment, the Biden-Harris transition called Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, a "barrier-breaking public servant who has spent her career fighting for families, including in Tribal Nations, rural communities, and communities of color."

Miguel Cardona
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Education Secretary: Miguel Cardona

Announcing Dr. Cardona's nomination on Wednesday, Biden said he had looked to tap someone with firsthand experience of the school system who could be a partner in one of his administration's first goals: "reopening schools safely."

"Vice President-elect Harris and I knew we needed an education secretary who truly understands what it’s been like for educators, administrators, families, caregivers and students this past year," Biden said.

Cardona, a Connecticut native, public school graduate and former teacher whose family is Puerto Rican, is currently the Connecticut commissioner of education, overseeing the state's schools. The Times described him as a proponent of reopening schools amid the pandemic while being mindful of both their safety and the value of in-person education.

"Though we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we also know that this crisis is ongoing, that we will carry its impacts for years to come and that the problems and inequities that have plagued our education system since long before COVID will still be with us even after the virus is at bay," Cardona said in a speech on Wednesday.

"And so it is our responsibility now, and our privilege, to take this moment and do the most American thing imaginable: to forge opportunity out of crisis," he said.

Cabinet-level Picks

Ron Klain
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Chief of Staff: Ron Klain

A lawyer and veteran Democratic operative, Klain, 59, is a close confidante of Biden and previously advised President Obama.

He has been vocal in his criticism of President Trump — particularly his handling of the coronavirus pandemic — on Twitter.

Klain, the "ebola czar" for the Obama administration, is expected to make the virus a top priority.

Neera Tanden
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Office of Management and Budget Director: Neera Tanden

Arguably the most controversial of Biden's picks so far, Tanden, 50, is president and CEO of the major liberal think thank Center for American Progress.

She has also been a prominent — and notably outspoken — voice on cable TV and on social media, where she has regularly weighed in on the political news of the day (and not been shy about scrapping with others on a given topic, including those on the right and further on the left).

That history has some Republican senators already saying she is too brash and divisive to be confirmed if they retain their majority. (Noting President Trump's preference for personal insults, Democrats have called this position hypocritical.)

A Biden transition spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about Tanden.

Avril Haines
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Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines

Haines, 51, will be the first woman to lead U.S. intelligence, if confirmed.

NPR reports that her background includes time spent at an elite judo academy in Japan, a plane crash in a used Cessna (in which she reportedly rebuilt the avionics herself) and a stint as independent bookstore owner in Baltimore.

She also attended Georgetown Law School before meeting Biden during her time at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was the first woman to hold the title of deputy director of the CIA, despite not previously working for the agency.

Jake Sullivan
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National Security Advisor: Jake Sullivan

A graduate of Yale University, Sullivan, 43, worked as a deputy chief of staff under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and as Biden’s adviser on national security during his vice presidency.

Sullivan later became a senior policy adviser with Biden's 2020 campaign. In a statement in November, the Biden-Harris transition said that he also played a key role in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, which was a landmark Obama achievement that Trump, who criticized it, sought to undue.

“During his time in government, Sullivan was a lead negotiator in the initial talks that paved the way for the Iran nuclear deal and played a key role in the U.S.-brokered negotiations that led to a ceasefire in Gaza in 2012,” the Biden team said in its statement. “He also played a key role in shaping the Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy at both the State Department and the White House."

Sullivan will be the youngest national security advisor in nearly 60 years.

"Being engaged in the world — being out there with our diplomats and our public health professionals and being part of institutions and systems that can help track and prevent threats before they arrive at our shores — that matters profoundly to working families across this country," Sullivan told Politico after Biden announced his selection.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield
| Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/Shutterstock

U.N. Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield

A longtime American diplomat, Thomas-Greenfield, 68, has held positions around the globe, including a tenure as the U.S. ambassador to Liberia as well as foreign policy positions in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica.

A 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service, she also served as the assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs from 2013 to 2017.

In a tweet posted last week, the Louisiana native joked about her stake on governance, writing, "In my thirty-five years in the Foreign Service across the world, I put a Cajun spin on it. I call it Gumbo diplomacy. Wherever I was posted, I’d invite people of all walks then make homemade gumbo. Thats how you break down barriers, connect, and see each-other as humans."

John Kerry
| Credit: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change: John Kerry

The former senator, secretary of state and Democratic candidate for president was named as Biden's pick for special presidential envoy for climate, where his role will reflect “the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the Biden transition team has said.

In the Biden administration, Kerry will serve as a diplomat and also a sitting member of the National Security Council, a signal that climate change will be treated as an "urgent national security threat,” the Biden team said in a statement.

The 76-year-old Kerry’s selection marks the first time a cabinet-level role addressing climate change has been created, according to the Times.

Cecilia Rouse
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Chair of Council of Economic Advisers: Cecilia Rouse 

Rouse, currently a dean of the ​Princeton School of Public and International Affairs​, will chair the White House's economic advisers as Biden's choice to play a key role in working to restart an economy crippled by the effects of the ongoing pandemic.

The 56-year-old labor economist previously served in the White House as a member of ​President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. In a statement, Rouse said she was "honored to have a chance to return to public service."

"We need to be positioned for the economy of the future so that everyone is able to partake in the growth we hope to have,” Rouse said.

If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman to lead the council in its 74-year history.

Katherine Tai
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U.S. Trade Representative: Katherine Tai

Biden, calling out what he said will be a priority for his government, said Tai has a history as a "chief trade enforce against unfair trade practices by China."

As the U.S. trade representative, the first woman of color in the role, Tai would be charged with heading up the federal government's trade policies. She currently serves as a top lawyer for the the key tax body in the House of Representatives, the Ways and Means Committee, and previously worked in the White House.

In remarks Friday, Tai invoked her parents, who were born in China and lived in Taiwan before immigrating to the U.S. and becoming citizens.

She also described trade as "like any other tool in our domestic or foreign policy — it is not an end in itself."

"It is a means to create more hope and opportunity for people," she said. "And it only succeeds when the humanity and dignity of every American — and of all people — lie at the heart of our approach."

Michael Regan
| Credit: N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

EPA Administrator: Michael Regan

An environmental regulator from North Carolina, Regan would be the first Black male chief of the Environmental Protection Agency. He has held positions at both the Environmental Defense Fund and the EPA.

In a tweet, Regan, 44, said his primary area of focus would be climate change, which he called "the most significant challenge humanity faces."

"We’ll make meaningful progress together by listening to every voice—from our youth & frontline communities to scientists & our workforce," Regan added on Twitter. "I will be honored to be part of that work as EPA Administrator."

The incoming administration has made combatting climate change a top priority, unveiling an ambitious plan that aims for clean electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.