Welcome to POLITICO’s 2020 Transition Playbook, your guide to one of the most consequential transfers of power in American history.
President-elect JOE BIDEN’s pledge to nominate the most diverse Cabinet in history means his transition now has to deal with some uncomfortable math. With nine Cabinet-level posts left to fill, Biden can only pick so many more white guys without breaking his promise — whether his transition team will admit it or not. Democrats, including some in Biden’s transition, have been doing a bit of historical research to determine which past presidential Cabinet was the most diverse for comparison.
This demographic calculus has already influenced some of Biden’s Cabinet choices and will affect his remaining nine as well, given the number of allies and outside groups pressing him to smash any number of glass ceilings and racial barriers.
Biden hasn’t said how he defines the “most diverse” and his transition team did not offer a definition when asked. But if he wants to appoint a Cabinet with the most people of color in history, he’ll need to surpass President BARACK OBAMA’s initial Cabinet, which included 10 people of color: four African Americans, two Hispanics, three Asian Americans and a Lebanese American (Transportation Secretary RAY LaHOOD).
If Biden measures diversity by having the most women in the Cabinet, he must beat President BILL CLINTON’s record of nine women in his Cabinet at the start of his second term (one of whom, JANET YELLEN, will also serve in Biden’s).
The president-elect is nearing both metrics.
Of the 14 people Biden has picked for Cabinet-level posts thus far, nine are people of color and seven are women. Five of them are Black, including Vice President-elect KAMALA HARRIS, tying the record Clinton set with his initial Cabinet. Two are Hispanic, one short of the number in Clinton’s, GEORGE W. BUSH‘s and Obama’s Cabinets for parts of their second terms. And three are Asian American (also including Harris), the same number as in Obama’s initial Cabinet.
“We have not only the most qualified and experienced Cabinet, but also we’re already on track to have the most diverse in American history,” JEN PSAKI, Biden’s incoming White House press secretary, told reporters this afternoon.
But the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus said in a statement today that it was concerned that “for the first time in over two decades, we are facing the possibility that there might not be a single” Asian American or Pacific Islander leading one of the 15 executive departments. (None of the three Asian Americans Biden’s chosen for the Cabinet so far — NEERA TANDEN, KATHERINE TAI and Harris — will have “secretary” in their titles.)
“Let us be clear: that outcome is unacceptable,” CAPAC said.
So where does that leave the math?
To have the most gender and racial diversity of any Cabinet in history, at least three of the nine remaining nominations should go to women and at least two should be people of color. If Biden doesn’t select any more women of color, then that leaves four slots he could fill with white guys, such as Sens. DOUG JONES (D-Ala.), TOM UDALL (D-N.M.) and PETE BUTTIGIEG, all of whom are under consideration for Cabinet posts. (Buttigieg would diversify the Cabinet in his own way as the first openly gay Cabinet member not serving in an acting capacity.) If Biden nominates at least two women of color, he could add up to six more white guys.
But that’s just if Biden wants to do the bare minimum, history-wise. He could go even bigger by appointing a majority-female and majority-minority Cabinet, a first in both cases.
Are you in touch with Biden’s transition team? Do you work in an agency preparing (or not preparing) for the transfer of power? Are you DENIS McDONOUGH? We want to hear from you — and we’ll keep you anonymous: [email protected]. You can also reach Alex, Theo, Megan, Alice, Tyler and Daniel individually if you prefer. DENIS, we just want to hear what it was like to play football for John Gagliardi.
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At the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Del., where he introduced TOM VILSACK, his choice to lead the Agriculture Department, whom he described as “the best secretary of Agriculture I believe this country’s ever had”; Rep. MARCIA FUDGE (D-Ohio), whom he’ll nominate to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development; DENIS McDONOUGH, his pick for Veterans Affairs secretary; KATHERINE TAI, his choice for U.S. trade representative; and SUSAN RICE, who will head Biden’s Domestic Policy Council.
With Biden at the Queen.
THE SCHISM OVER NICHOLS: The speculation that Biden may tap California environmental regulator MARY NICHOLS to be EPA administrator has opened a schism between her many supporters and a newly emboldened environmental justice faction that’s accused her of failing to help low-income areas and people of color—issues that have long been overlooked in the green movement. ZACK COLMAN, DEBRA KAHN and ANTHONY ADRAGNA write that it’s not clear whether the complaints from some environmental justice groups are hurting Nichols’ chances for the job that will be at the center of the Biden administration’s climate change plans.
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THE JOBS THAT ARE STILL UP FOR GRABS — California Labor Secretary JULIE SU, the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a longtime advocate for low-wage workers, is in serious contention to lead Biden’s Labor Department, KATY MURPHY and ELEANOR MUELLER report.
In Su’s corner: Dozens of immigration and labor organizations, led by the National Immigration Law Center, who sent a letter to Biden’s team Dec. 4 voicing their support. And Sen. MAZIE HIRONO (D-Hawaii), one of only three Asian American senators, sent Biden a letter on Wednesday endorsing Su, calling her “the best of what this country can be.”
AN EDUCATION SECRETARY ENDORSEMENT: A prominent charter school advocate is trying to rally support for RANDI WEINGARTEN, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, as Biden’s pick for Education secretary. STEVE BARR, the subject of a New Yorker profile a decade ago titled “The Instigator” who once partnered with Weingarten to open a school in the Bronx, has been in touch with the Biden transition to advocate for Weingarten, he said.
“I know Randi, not only as a union leader, but as a successful charter school founder and fellow charter school board member,” Barr wrote in an op-ed shared with Transition Playbook. “ And most importantly, she is someone who will bring together the warring tribes who dominate our politics on behalf of our children in traditionally failing schools.”
OBAMA’S CABINET MINUS THE RIVALS — “He’s not putting together a team of rivals, he’s putting together a team. That sets him apart from everybody,” said MARY ANNE MARSH, a Democratic strategist from Massachusetts who served in senior roles for JOHN KERRY, Biden’s incoming special envoy on climate change. Marsh told CHRIS CADELAGO and NATASHA KORECKI that Biden is “not interested in conflict as much as he wants to have people who have done the job before and they can all work together to get all the work done.”
Want to keep tabs on who’s in, who’s out and who’s still in the mix for Cabinet posts? Bookmark our Biden Cabinet tracker.
BIDEN TRANSITION QUIETLY BRINGS ON FACEBOOK, GOOGLE EMPLOYEES — When the Biden transition team released the names of hundreds of personnel on Nov. 10, there were zero current Facebook or Google employees among them. That’s changed — the transition website quietly added four Facebook and Google employees to its agency review teams on or close to Thanksgiving, the hawk-eyed STEVEN OVERLY noticed. All four continue to work at their companies while on the transition administration:
— ZAID ZAID, a Facebook public policy official, joined the State Department and International Development teams.
— CHRISTOPHER UPPERMAN, a Facebook manager, was added to the Small Business Administration team.
— RACHEL LIEBER, a Facebook director and associate general counsel, now sits on the Intelligence Community team.
— DEON SCOTT, a Google program manager and alum of Obama’s Homeland Security Department, will serve on the DHS team.
Silicon Valley critics have pressured the incoming administration not to hire people with ties to the tech industry to senior posts, particularly individuals associated with Facebook and Google, which are fending off massive antitrust lawsuits. There are a number of former Facebook leaders already in top positions on the transition.
The transition told us that they “have regularly updated our agency review team lists to allow members access to the federal agencies in preparation for the incoming administration.”
A HUNTER SPECIAL COUNSEL? Biden’s pick for attorney general may be tasked with overseeing the prosecution of Biden’s son. That is just one of several possible scenarios that could result from the ongoing federal investigation into HUNTER BIDEN, JOSH GERSTEIN tells us. It also raises questions about the incoming Biden Justice Department that the transition team isn’t answering.
One way to give the probe a measure of independence, short of a full-scale special counsel, would be for Biden to keep DAVID WEISS, the U.S. attorney in Delaware, in his post in the new administration, even as other U.S. attorneys are typically asked to resign.
Attorney General ERIC HOLDER did that in 2009 by allowing GEORGE HOLDING, the George W. Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, to stay on for 2 1/2 years to see through an investigation into former Sen. JOHN EDWARDS (D-N.C.) over nearly $1 million in funds used to support a woman he fathered a child with.
Biden told CNN last week that his attorney general will “have the independent capacity to decide who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t.”
CHATTY CATHY: The Biden team has been privately blasting some of their allies for a regular trickle of leaks about personnel appointments. But according to a person with knowledge of the conversations, some Democrats have retorted that leaks are also coming from the Biden side, including from the president-elect himself. Biden is a notorious gabster with a long Rolodex of friends he dials, and they argue word is also spilling out that way. A few Democrats say there’s a parallel with Trump’s phone habit.
In case you were wondering, we are very pro-leak: [email protected].
“He wasn’t anxious to come back. He wasn’t looking for this job. Well, I was persistent, and I asked him to serve again in the role because he knows the USDA inside and out.”
Biden veered from his prepared remarks this afternoon to mention that he had to coax Vilsack, Obama’s former Agriculture secretary, to return to the job. The prepared remarks distributed to the press read only, “I asked him to serve again in the role because he knows the USDA inside and out.”
The admission isn’t likely to soothe those who’d pushed for Fudge to get the job (she landed at HUD instead). Fudge, herself, had made no secret that she wanted to be Agriculture secretary.
How the investigation of his son could hang over Biden’s presidency (The New York Times)
E.J. Dionne urges Biden to choose Merrick Garland as attorney general (The Washington Post)
Progressives don’t want Michael Fitzpatrick to lead OIRA (The Wall Street Journal)
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