As Donald Trump continues to deny the fact that he is coming to the end of his time in the White House, Joe Biden is rapidly putting together a team to replace the four year long reality TV show that has been the Trump presidency.
Over the past week, the Biden transition team has been appointing staffers and mulling over candidates for a presidential cabinet that will, in the words of the President-elect, “look like America”.
Biden seems set to meet that pledge.
Of the ten official appointments he has so far made to offices in the West Wing, half are women and about a third are people of color – compare that to Donald Trump’s overwhelmingly white and male cabinet.
Many of the appointees come from “Bidenworld,” the tight circle of friends, advisors and loyalists that have surrounded the President-elect for decades.
Every member of the Biden Administration who has so far been named has worked under Biden, either during his time as Vice President or in his presidential campaign (or both). While speculation has swirled about nominees for cabinet positions, Biden has so far focused on filling the offices of the White House.
This is a simple political calculus: the Senate (which has the power to confirm or deny major cabinet appointments) could be hostile to the incoming administration, depending on what happens in the Georgia runoffs, so Biden wants to assemble his West Wing team to strategize before launching into grueling confirmation battles in the upper chamber of Congress.
Biden will formally introduce several Cabinet picks on Tuesday. His campaign released a list of nominees today for important Cabinet and diplomatic or national security positions, which consists of the following:
- Antony Blinken, Secretary of State
- Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security
- Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence
- Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
- Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor
- John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
Biden has not only promised diversity, but has also indicated that his will be a “climate administration.” The Biden team plan to tackle climate change “straight out of the box,” in the words of Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. Udall and other insiders have told reporters that climate policy will not only be the focus of a few key agencies, but rather “a whole government approach,” and that the key question for each Cabinet appointee will be “is this person climate-ambitious?”
As a result of this focus, many of the most likely candidates for Cabinet positions have encouraging records on climate.
- Mayor Eric Garcetti, the top contender for Secretary of Transportation, has committed Los Angeles to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
- Michelle Flournoy, a possible defense chief, has advocated for emissions cuts at the Pentagon for years.
- California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has fought legal battles with the Trump Administration over environmental regulations and is being considered for a number of positions
- … and Washington state’s own Governor Jay Inslee, who ran for president on a climate-focused platform, is reportedly being considered for a couple different positions, like Secretary of Energy (however, Inslee has said that he does not intend to accept a position in the Cabinet, and there is no reason to believe that he would change his mind.)
While all of these potential picks are sources of encouragement to progressives, climate activists have sounded a note of caution.
Of particular concern for activists is the appointment of Cedric Richmond to oversee the new administration’s public outreach.
Richmond, a congressman from Louisiana, is one of the Democratic Party’s largest recipients of fossil fuel money, and frequently votes against his Democratic colleagues when it helps the interests of oil and gas companies – despite representing one of the most badly-polluted areas of the country.
The Sunrise Movement’s executive director Varshini Prakash (who is a member of Biden’s policy taskforce) described Richmond’s appointment as a “betrayal.”
Of equal or greater concern is the possible renomination of Ernest Moniz to the role of Energy Secretary, a job he held from 2013 to 2017. Moniz has extensive ties to the energy industry, and currently serves on the board of a company that spent the Obama years filing lawsuits against emissions regulations.
Progressives should applaud President-elect Biden’s determination to make climate change the focus of his administration; it is, after all, the greatest threat facing humanity. At the same time, though, we must be on our guard, and challenge any backsliding on climate action and climate justice by Biden’s team.