Oct 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden's diverse Cabinet

Picture of Biden surrounded by thumbs-up.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

If Joe Biden wins the presidency, his advisers plan to assemble the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history as he works to fulfill a pledge to build the Democratic Party on a new generation of leaders.

The big picture: Many of Biden's longtime aides, most of whom are white and male, are expected to follow him to the West Wing. That means the pressure will be on to recruit a Cabinet that's both younger and more diverse.

  • Biden confidants tell Axios that several women and people of color are under consideration for top posts at State, Defense, Treasury and Justice.

What we’re hearing: Though Biden's team is talking about infusing the Democratic Party with fresh faces, many of these potential picks also served under Barack Obama or are well known figures in the party.

  • Michele Flournoy, who served as an under secretary for Defense in the Obama administration, is widely regarded as the front runner for the Pentagon.
  • Jeh Johnson, who served as Obama's second secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, could get the top job at Defense, where he also was general counsel in Obama's first term.
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who was considered for Biden's VP, is also a possibility to head the Pentagon, or the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Former national security adviser Susan Rice, who was also a VP finalist, could be in the mix for State, the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.
  • Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are among those who may be considered to head the Justice Department.

While there has been a lot of speculation around Warren leading Treasury, we have heard that's not the most likely scenario.

  • But at least three other women's names are on our radar: Janet Yellen, who under Obama became the first female Fed chair; Lael Brainard, a current Fed Governor who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations; and Sarah Bloom Raskin, who served on the Fed and as deputy Treasury secretary under Obama.

Two Black economists are also in the Treasury mix: TIAA president and CEO Roger Ferguson, and Raphael Bostic, president of the Atlanta Fed. Either also could be in the mix to replace Jerome Powell as Fed Chair when his term is up in the summer of 2021.

  • Rep. Cedric Richmond, a former leader of the Congressional Black Caucus who signed on as Biden's campaign co-chairman in May 2019, is another potential cabinet pick.
  • New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, another VP candidate, could also find herself in the cabinet.
  • Lisa Cook, an African American economist at Michigan State University, could be the first African American female to head the Council of Economic Advisers.

What they are saying: "Joe Biden is running a campaign that mirrors our diversity as a nation," said Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman.

Between the lines: In Biden’s world, friendships are measured in decades, not years. Breaking into Biden’s inner circle has always been a challenge — and that's been made even more difficult by the pandemic.

  • Cabinet members will want to know they'll have real decision-making authority and access to Biden, and not just cosmetic roles.
  • In Obama’s White House, many key decisions were made in the West Wing, and left to implement by the agencies. President Trump has taken that dynamic to new levels.

The intrigue: Biden's team worked throughout the summer to add more people of color to his campaign. As of mid-September, 46% of his staff were people of color, up from 35% in early June, campaign officials tell Axios.

  • Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders, a 30-year-old African American woman who was Bernie Sanders' press secretary in his 2016 presidential bid, travels with Biden and brings a progressive voice to the table.
  • Biden also values the political judgment of Rep. Jim Clyburn and will consult him on how to fill out his Cabinet.
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