Biden considers Zients, Murthy to lead pandemic response

Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) is the projected winner of the 2020 presidential election. The Electoral College will meet on December 14, 2020, to vote for the next president of the United States.

In 2016, there were 1,714 government positions subject to presidential appointment: 1,242 positions required Senate confirmation and 472 did not. Every weekday, Ballotpedia is tracking potential Cabinet nominees, appointments, and news related to the Biden presidential transition.


  • The Washington Post identified former National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients and former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as the top two contenders for a White House senior position focused on the administration’s pandemic response.
  • Politico reported that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is now favored to be secretary of health and human services over New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Murthy was also in consideration but “his candidacy for the HHS job has been dented by concerns over his lack of management experience,” according to Politico.
  • Biden does not plan to remove FBI Director Christopher Wray—appointed by Trump in 2017—if he is still in the post when Biden’s administration begins. Biden is also considering former Deputy Director of the CIA David S. Cohen for the top spot at the CIA, The New York Times reported. 
  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said that he planned to challenge the Electoral College vote when Congress certifies it on January 6, 2021. To initiate deliberation on the matter, a senator would also need to join the challenge.
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recommended two Democratic Iowans for secretary of agriculture on Wednesday: former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Collin Peterson.
  • Harris has named Hartina Flournoy as chief of staff to the vice president. Flournoy is currently the chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.

Transition in Context: Where does the Cabinet come from?

The formation of the Cabinet is rooted in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which states that the president “may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices.”

The Cabinet includes the vice president and the leaders of 15 executive departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.

Several other positions have become Cabinet-rank over the years, although not all administrations include the same set of offices.

The Trump administration, for example, currently identifies the following Cabinet-rank positions:

  • White House chief of staff
  • Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • U.S. trade representative
  • Director of the CIA
  • Director of national intelligence
  • Administrator of the Small Business Administration

The Obama administration included all of the above positions in its Cabinet, except for director of the CIA and director of national intelligence. It also identified the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations as Cabinet-rank.

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