filling the cabinet
December 10, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden announced Thursday he'll nominate Denis McDonough to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, and will name Susan Rice his head of the White House Domestic Policy Council. And while both of the nominees have lots of Washington experience, they're receiving criticism for their lack of experience in the departments they've been named to.

McDonough was a chief of staff to former President Barack Obama, and was reportedly chosen for his skill in crisis management and deep experience in government operations, a source familiar with the choice tells Military Times. And while he did handle the aftermath of the Obama administration's VA wait times scandal, McDonough isn't a veteran, and wasn't known for his work in veterans issues under Obama. AMVETS National Executive Director Joe Chenelly told Military Times he was "surprised by this pick," while others were more explicit with their criticism.

Rice was meanwhile ambassador to the United Nations and National Security Adviser under Obama. She was on Biden's vice presidential shortlist, and was also expected to be a top contender for secretary of state. But Rice has long been the target of Republican opposition, perhaps influencing Biden to pick her for a spot that doesn't require Senate confirmation. Still, the decision is surprising considering Rice has spent her career in foreign policy and doesn't have high-level experience in domestic policy roles. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 9, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden has selected Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and agriculture secretary for all eight years of the Obama administration, as his nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Politico and The Washington Post report. "One person familiar with Biden’s thinking said Vilsack’s previous experience running the department was instrumental in the decision because the president-elect wanted someone who could immediately tackle the hunger and farm crises that have been exacerbated by the pandemic," Politico reports.

Several Black leaders civil rights advocates had urged Biden to pick Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, to head the USDA, looking for a fresh direction, and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) had also been under consideration. Biden chose Fudge to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development instead. The USDA "has been almost exclusively led by white men since the Civil War," Politico notes.

Vilsack, who currently leads the U.S. Dairy Export Council trade group, is expected to easily win confirmation, and Biden's plans to use the USDA as a tool against climate change "likely made the job more attractive for Vilsack to return," Politico reports. Agriculture groups have warmed to the idea of the federal government paying farmers to capture and store carbon dioxide in the soil.

The next agriculture secretary will also have to decide whether to continue President Trump's welfare program for farmers hit by his trade wars — payments that hit $37 billion in 2020 — and grapple with rising demand for food aid during the COVID-19 economic downturn. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) makes up about half of the USDA's budget. Peter Weber

December 8, 2020

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) has reportedly been chosen to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Fudge and her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus have been pushing her as the next head of the Department of Agriculture. But as of Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden has chosen her for a different role, two people with knowledge of the decision tell Politico.

Politico's report comes after House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a chair of Biden's inaugural committee, said Tuesday that Fudge may not be USDA head, but that she "will be" in Biden's Cabinet. Clyburn had been "aggressively" lobbying for Fudge to have a Cabinet position, Politico writes.

Fudge told Politico last month that Black people usually don't get to have top Cabinet positions. "As this country becomes more and more diverse, we're going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in,” she said. "You know, it's always 'we want to put the Black person in Labor or HUD.'"

Given that Fudge has a spot on the House's Agricultural Committee, she was reportedly angling to lead the USDA. But Biden is reportedly leaning toward bringing back Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack instead. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 30, 2020

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is reportedly looking to make a big, structural career change.

The former presidential candidate is ready to make her case to be Democratic nominee Joe Biden's Treasury secretary should he win next week, three Democratic officials who have spoken to her inner circle tell Politico; Two straightforwardly said "she wants it." A Warren Treasury would appeal to progressives who have been reluctant to support Biden, but also draw opposition from Wall Street leaders Warren would try to regulate.

Warren certainly has the background to lead the Treasury. She's an expert on bankruptcy law, originated the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under former President Barack Obama, and made economic reform a big part of her 2020 campaign. And while she could keep advocating for these goals in the Senate, Warren allies tell Politico this is "a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to enact some of the 'big structural change' she talked about during the presidential primary." Warren also would like to "rectify what she thinks were mistakes in the Obama administration's response to the Great Recession," namely not reshaping the system as a whole, Politico adds.

Biden's potential Cabinet has been in the works for months, with Politico reporting he wants to "assemble a center-left amalgamation of personnel designed to prioritize speed over ideology in responding to the coronavirus and the resulting economic ruin." Warren has long been viewed as a more progressive piece of that puzzle, though for now, her campaign says it's focused on the election that's just a few days away. Kathryn Krawczyk

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