To begin, the senior members of Biden’s White House who have already been announced are both remarkably experienced in federal government and with Biden specifically (e.g., Ron Klain, Mike Donilon). They are also diverse (five of the first nine are women). This is no surprise, given CNN’s report that on the transition team “41% of the senior staff are people of color. The majority of transition staff — 52% — are women, and 53% of the senior staff are women.” A diverse campaign often begets a diverse transition, and in turn, a diverse administration. (Women, including many women of color, are reportedly under consideration to lead the departments of Defense, Treasury, Justice, Interior, Agriculture and just about every other Cabinet post.)
The notion that diversity and experience are in conflict exists in the mind of people who have not spent more than 40 years building bridges and elevating people of all different backgrounds, as Biden has. He recognizes that a presidency with a diversity of backgrounds and views will make better decisions and stay more grounded in the world beyond the White House gates.
Second, Biden consults experts, not cronies. Look at the national security panel he met with on Tuesday and his new covid-19 task force. Both groups are made up of sober, serious, well-respected people. The biggest shift from the Trump years may be that the incoming president will seek out people who know more about a particular subject than he does — and then listen to them. He is still going to make the policy and personnel calls, but they will be informed by knowledgeable people. Weird, I know.
Third, traditional and bipartisan foreign policy seems to be the order of the day. Biden’s readouts of calls with foreign leaders seem like messages from a time capsule buried at Foggy Bottom before the Trump presidency. They mention specific items discussed, include no sycophantic praise for the president-elect, contain no typos and read as if the president and his transition team know what they are talking about. There is plenty of talk about alliances and relationships, with mention of international organizations (NATO, the European Union, ANZUS treaty, the Group of 20) scattered throughout. Stable. Normal.
Fourth, Biden focuses on a few, top-level policy issues: the pandemic, his economic “Build Back Better” plan and possible executive orders (e.g., rejoining the Paris climate accords, reversing Trump’s actions on DACA and undoing Trump’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries). The first two are the most pressing and must get done correctly for anything else in Biden’s agenda to succeed. Not coincidentally, they are also topics on which Congress will be compelled to do something. Biden lived through this before — tackling President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan in 2009 and then the health-care plan. Focus on the high-priority items and make sure you get something done early.
Fifth, we do not hear from Biden every day. The tweets are generally announcements or pandemic-related advice. A president who understands that less is more — hallelujah!
Finally, Biden absorbs rather than magnifies chaos and conflict. He does not condemn Republicans for playing along with Trump’s delusional insistence that he won the election. Nor does he excoriate Republicans for foot-dragging since the House passed its bill in May; instead, he talks to Democratic leaders about a lame-duck stimulus. His lawyers and staff can punch back as necessary, but he is trying his best not to personalize disputes with members of Congress. He knows that in a matter of weeks, he will need their help.
Biden’s transition so far is exactly like his campaign. He and his aides screen out 90 percent of the alarmism and acrimony one sees on social media. They have a plan. They stick with it. Aides do not make themselves the story. We do not hear of conflicts internally. You will miss nothing horrific if you turn away for a day or so. Ah, this is what it was like.
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