When it comes to President Elect Joe Biden's cabinet picks, he isn’t exactly making friends, but he isn’t losing any either. So far, the general response to Biden’s cabinet picks from progressives and conservatives alike has been one of hesitant approval. He has skillfully avoided alienating the younger, left-er wing of the Democratic party with his five picks this week. Similarly, center-left democrats and conservatives are feeling comfortable with his appointments, and are hoping for a few more moderates to trickle in for the remaining spots. That being said, no one is thrilled with his choices either. Frankly, I’m encouraged. Each of his picks are good, not great, but are likely the best we can get with the current political divide and an uncertain Senate runoff season looming. Let’s take a look at who has been chosen and who’s therefore been snubbed.
Secretary of State:
Anthony “Tony” Blinken is a solid selection for Secretary of State. Having served as Deputy Secretary of State under Obama, he has considerable experience, is a long-time confidant of the President-Elect, and has a foreign policy perspective aimed at bringing the world together with American leadership and example. Former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was a top contender for the spot, and while it would be meaningful to have a woman of color in charge of the Foggy Bottom department, her being national security adviser during the Benghazi attack in 2012 has stained her reputation. Therefore, I think Blinken is a wiser choice given the unlikelihood that he’ll face harsh examination in a potentially Republican-led Senate confirmation.
Secretary of Treasury:
I think every progessive that nodded ‘yes’ when hearing Elizabeth Warren during the primary debates would love to see her as head of the Treasury Department. I sure would. Alas, Washington is a fragile political ecosystem and Warren has been properly fixed by conservatives as a politically-loaded, “socialist” liability. Instead, Biden has selected Janet Yellen, former Fed chair and serious advocate for workers and inequality. For these attributes, she is still a great fit for the role, and while many progressives (myself included) hoped for a leftist star in the Treasury Department, most are warming to the notion given time to research Yellen’s positions.
Secretary of Homeland Security:
If Biden’s selections had a theme, picking Alejandro Mayorkas to head up the Department of Homeland Security broke it. While with some of his other picks, he favored contenders who weren’t progressive favorites but would more easily pass Senate confirmation, Mayorkas has some excellent progressive credentials and a bit of baggage. He served as deputy secretary of homeland security under Obama and was pivotal to the conservatively-demonized DACA program as head of the CIS. Mayorkas was also the subject of an inspector general report in 2015 that accused him of directing “special access” in a specific visa program, which will likely give him some heat in a confirmation hearing. The other name that had been floated for the job was Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general. It’s possible he was passed over for the cabinet position because he may be tapped to fill Kamala Harris’ senate seat by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Ultimately, I think Mayorkas has the experience and progressive mindset to be confirmed and do the job well, let alone the potential to be the first Latino leading the department.
The Director of National Intelligence crucially orchestrates the integration of intelligence objectives, organizing (or wrangling, depending on how you see it) the various intelligence organizations and keeping everyone on the same page. Biden has selected Avril Haines, a former deputy national security adviser and former deputy CIA director, for this important role. After years of Trump polluting the ODNI with political smearing and disputing the intelligence community’s credibility, it is essential that a reliable and uncompromised professional take over. With Avril Haines and her spotless record of dedication and leadership, I can’t think of anyone better suited. She not only represents a return from the Trump administration’s foreign policy mission of ‘America First,' but also stands to be the first woman to direct America’s intelligence community.
Ambassador to the United Nations:
The United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations serves as the face of America’s aspirations of global cooperation, and alongside the Secretary of State, helps to set the international agenda. Biden has selected Linda Thomas-Greenfield as this face, and what a message she sends. From growing up in segregated Baker, Louisiana and attending LSU alongside David Duke, to serving as Obama’s top diplomat to Africa, Thomas-Greenfield is an icon to women of color for succeeding in a system set against them. Snubbed contenders for the role include Wendy Sherman, a former under secretary of State, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana and former presidential primary candidate. I think Pete Buttigieg is downright fantastic, but with her experience and what she stands for, Linda Thomas-Greenfield is an excellent choice.
While many progressives aren’t thrilled that their standard bearers are yet to be significantly represented in Biden’s cabinet, his first five choices have been those favoring experience, vision, and a slight aversion to political risk, which has been enough to prevent tumult. I commend the new administration for its current all-pleasing direction despite its measured approach. Like other progressives, there are exciting leftist names I would love to see in top positions, but these chosen men and women are the ones we might just need to bring the country together. And for those less satisfied, the cabinet still has ten spots to go, so cross those fingers.