President-elect Joe Biden campaigned to have a government as diverse as America. After 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president, Biden now has an opportunity to tap a broad range of government officials and policy experts to lead the federal departments.
Biden’s campaign declined to discuss prospects for Cabinet posts, saying those decisions would wait until after the election. But speculation during the final weeks of the campaign ranged from former officials from President Barack Obama’s administration to former rivals in the Democratic primaries and even Republicans.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect, told supporters at an Oct. 17 fundraiser that Biden’s Cabinet would reflect the country, with women and people of color in leadership positions.
In a June 10 column in USA TODAY, Biden said: “Across the board – from our classrooms to our courtrooms to the president’s Cabinet – we have to make sure that our leadership and our institutions actually look like America.”
In his first speech as president-elect, Biden echoed that message: “I said from the outset I wanted a campaign that represented America, and I think we did that. Now that’s what I want the administration to look like.”
Part of that diversity could extend to party. Obama’s Cabinet included Republicans such as Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel at Defense and Ray LaHood at Transportation.
Republican speakers at the Democratic National Convention included former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former New York Rep. Susan Molinari and Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and Hewlett-Packard, now at Quibi.
“I’m running as a proud Democrat – but I will govern as an American president – to unite and to heal,” Biden told supporters in Tampa on Oct. 28, in phrasing repeated often during the campaign.
But progressives are skeptical about inviting Republicans into the Cabinet. Alex Morgan, executive director of the Progressive Turnout Project, said that it “might depend on the person but that activists want credible advocates for issues such as health care, climate and justice.”
“While I applaud those folks for doing the right thing, that doesn’t mean they deserve a spot in a Democratic administration,” Morgan said.
Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said getting Biden’s Cabinet in place during the first 100 days of his administration would be a top priority for his team. But if Republicans retain control of the Senate – the balance depends on undecided races in Georgia and elsewhere – Ornstein said Biden would be unable to place progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont in his Cabinet.
“None of that is going to happen,” Ornstein said Thursday during an AEI panel on what to expect in the next administration. “I think under these circumstances you’re not likely to see any Democratic senators being chosen for the Cabinet.”
Some candidates have already demurred. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a former superintendent of Denver public schools, told The Denver Post he wasn’t interested in becoming education secretary.
Axios reported Oct. 11 that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the secretary of housing and urban development for President Bill Clinton, was being considered for a Cabinet post. But he rejected the possibility the next day.
“I have no interest in going to Washington,” Cuomo told NBC’s “Today.”
Here are some of the choices Biden faces in filling his Cabinet:
• Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a white member of the Senate Judiciary Committee where she has been harshly critical of Attorney General William Barr. She dropped her presidential campaign after the South Carolina primary and endorsed Biden.