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Diverse team likely as Biden mulls his cabinet

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Nov 18, 2020 - 12:52 PM

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden has promised a cabinet that reflects America’s diversity, and he is choosing his team even though Donald Trump is refusing to concede or cooperate.

Dozens of names are being floated for the most important positions in the executive branch, and the vetting of potential cabinet members has been going on or months.

“I said from the outset I wanted a campaign that represented America, and I think we did that,” Biden, whose incoming vice president Kamala Harris is a Black and Asian-American woman, said in his victory speech four days after the November 3 election.

“Now that’s what I want the administration to look like.”

But Biden may well be hamstrung by the US Senate, which confirms cabinet picks and whose control is likely — but not guaranteed — to be in Republican hands come January.

That means Biden may need some Republican support to get his picks confirmed, and would face severe headwinds if he chooses far-left nominees like Senator Elizabeth Warren or Senator Bernie Sanders.

Here are some of the politicians, diplomats, businesswomen and defense experts jockeying for spots in Biden’s inner circle:

Secretary of State

Former UN ambassador and national security advisor Susan Rice, an experienced foreign policy hand, worked closely with Biden when he was vice president. She would need little on-the-job training in the critical post, freeing up Biden to address the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic woes.

One major strike against Rice, 56, is her association with the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya which killed four Americans. Getting her past hostile Senate Republicans could be difficult.

Senator Chris Coons, a close Biden friend, has international experience having served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for years.

“If he were to consider me,” Coons told Politico in October, “I’d certainly be honored.”

Also in contention: Senator Chris Murphy, whose pick would be a win for the party’s progressive faction, and William Burns, a veteran Foreign Service officer and number two at State under Barack Obama.

Treasury

Filling this spot could be a crucial fight for Biden, who has laid out a sweeping “Build Back Better” economic program that includes financial reforms.

Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard, 58, is a frontrunner, financial sources close to Biden have told AFP.

As the lone Democrat remaining on the governor’s board she has often staked out minority positions that draw attention, such as opposing moves that ease rules governing big banks.

Meg Whitman, a business executive and Republican candidate for California governor in 2010, could be under consideration for either Treasury or the Commerce Department.

Black lawmakers have signalled they would want a person of color heading Treasury, like investor Mellody Hobson, one of the most powerful Black women on Wall Street.

Also under consideration: Former Fed chair Janet Yellen and TIAA chief executive Roger Ferguson.

Pentagon 

Biden could make history if he appoints a woman to head the Pentagon, which with Treasury is one of two remaining departments that have been led only by white men.

Michele Flournoy, a respected former undersecretary of defense for policy, leads the field. She would bring loads of policy background and management experience to the table.

She founded the think tank Center for a New American Security, and received glowing praise from Biden in 2016.

Also in contention: war hero Senator Tammy Duckworth and Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Attorney General 

He may have lost re-election in conservative Alabama, but Senator Doug Jones is a Justice Department veteran.

As a US attorney in 2002 he successfully prosecuted two former Ku Klux Klan members for the deadly bombing of a Black Birmingham church in 1963.

Sally Yates is in the mix, too. Briefly held over from the Obama era into the Trump administration, Trump fired her for refusing to support his ban on immigration from certain Muslim majority countries.

Also in contention: Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, who served as Obama’s assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Others 

A battle to head the Interior Department may be brewing between two environmentally-focused lawmakers from New Mexico: congresswoman Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, and retiring Senator Tom Udall.

Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, a 39-year-old gay military veteran who deployed to Afghanistan while serving as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is discussed as a fit for Veterans Affairs.

And Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, is a potential candidate for multiple posts including Department of Homeland Security.

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