This is true of every Democratic president — as the party that believes in government, they have a greater incentive to make it operate well — but Biden’s team is particularly heavy with experience.
Nearly all the senior people he has named so far worked in previous Democratic administrations. In some cases, they held positions just under Cabinet rank. His pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama; and his choice for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, was deputy director of the CIA, and so on.
These are not people who have to spend time learning how the government and their departments work. And the contrast with the Trump administration is striking. For example, there is no more important position in the White House than chief of staff. None of President Trump’s four chiefs could manage him or had the appropriate preparation, which resulted in chaos and mismanagement.
The president-elect’s choice, Ronald A. Klain, was Biden’s chief of staff while Biden was vice president and served in the same capacity for Vice President Al Gore. Whatever else happens, it’s likely that Klain will make the White House operate smoothly.
What’s more, all of Biden’s picks will be people who believe in the mission of the departments they lead. Trump appointed a former coal lobbyist to run the Environmental Protection Agency and someone who had devoted her adult life to destroying public education to lead the Education Department.
Biden’s choices also reveal that he is attuned to the needs and desires of his party. For his entire career, the president-elect has located the center of the party and planted himself there. Biden’s platform was more progressive than those of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, because the party moved left and he moved with it.
You can see that reflected in his picks as well: They’re essentially a collection of establishment figures who are progressive enough to avoid angering many on the left — and might even appeal to them.
Janet L. Yellen, who would become treasury secretary, is deeply qualified (she chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and led the Federal Reserve). But she’s being praised by progressives as a sharp break with Obama’s first treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and for her commitment to fighting unemployment and inequality.
That’s a reminder that many who worked for Obama are now regarded on the left as being too conservative, particularly those with Wall Street ties. Progressives are warning Biden away from some other possible picks (see here or here). But, so far, none has resulted in frustration from the left.
Or take immigration, which will be immensely fraught and consequential after Trump’s tenure. Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, shows both a commitment to pragmatic governing and a desire to unify center and left.
A huge part of the task ahead on immigration involves undoing through executive action many things Trump did. That will include restoring refugee flows to pre-Trump levels and higher, getting rid of cruelly punitive policies toward asylum seekers, expanding protections for “dreamers” brought here illegally as children, and deprioritizing the removal of undocumented immigrants who aren’t violent criminals.
Many of these will be legally and pragmatically complex to implement, from rebuilding support systems for refugees to figuring out what to do with asylum seekers stranded in the limbo of Trump’s policies to protecting executive changes from court challenge.
All this will require deep knowledge of immigration policy and immigration law. Mayorkas has both, having worked as a deputy DHS secretary under Obama. This is why immigrant-rights groups expect Mayorkas to maximize legally creative means to restoring humane treatment of immigrants to our sprawling, inhumane system.
“He has the expertise to roll back the worst of the Trump administration’s policies, but also to create a more modern immigration system,” Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, told us. “That will appeal to the immigrant rights and business communities, and across the ideological spectrum.”
Biden’s choice of John F. Kerry to lead his efforts on climate change threads that same needle: As a former presidential nominee, senator and secretary of state, Kerry has credentials and stature but is also respected by climate activists, who greeted the pick with approval.
In short, Biden is choosing nominees whom Republicans will have a difficult time criticizing (honestly, anyway), but whom his own party is broadly satisfied with. Indeed, so far, he looks like he’ll do better than Obama did on picking personnel whom his party, including the left, won’t object to.
We don’t yet know what much of the rest of Biden’s team will look like, but they’ll probably follow the same pattern. And to be clear, all this tells us little about whether they’ll be successful. Smart and experienced people make mistakes all the time and have to confront unexpected situations. Governing always involves setbacks and compromises. But, so far, it looks as though Biden is setting himself up well.
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