Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: November 28-December 4, 2020

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 week, Ballotpedia is tracking potential Cabinet nominees, appointments, and news related to the Biden presidential transition.

Appointments and Nominations

Biden announced his appointees for top economic roles on Monday, including the secretary of the Treasury and the Cabinet-rank positions of director of the Office of Management and Budget and chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Janet Yellen, secretary of the Treasury

Janet Yellen was the 15th chair of the Federal Reserve, under the Obama administration, and a former chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration. Outside of public service, Yellen was a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley for four decades. She has been confirmed by the Senate four times. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to hold this position.

Neera Tanden, director of the Office of Management and Budget

Neera Tanden is the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. She has worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, including as a senior adviser for health reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to hold this position.

Cecilia Rouse, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers

Cecilia Rouse is the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. She previously served on the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration and the National Economic Council during the Clinton administration.

The Biden Transition also announced appointees for the following three roles:

  • Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary of the Treasury
  • Jared Bernstein, member of the Council of Economic Advisers
  • Heather Boushey, member of the Council of Economic Advisers

Biden also announced his appointees for seven top White House communications roles on Sunday.

Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director

Kate Bedingfield was a deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden presidential campaign. During the Obama administration, Bedingfield worked as a communications director for Biden, associate communications director, deputy director of media affairs, and director of response. Outside of government service, Bedingfield has been the chief spokeswoman and vice president of corporate communications at the Motion Picture Association of America.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary

Jen Psaki served as White House communications director during the Obama administration. She also held other key communications roles, including State Department spokesperson, deputy White House communications director, and deputy White House press secretary. Psaki worked on presidential campaigns for John Kerry and Barack Obama. Psaki is currently leading the confirmations team for the Biden Transition.

The other five appointments include the following Biden campaign and Obama administration veterans:

  • Elizabeth Alexander, communications director for the first lady
  • Ashley Etienne, communications director for the vice president
  • Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary
  • Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson for the vice president
  • Pili Tobar, deputy White House communications director

Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council

Biden announced on Thursday that he was appointing Brian Deese to director of the National Economic Council. Deese was a deputy director of the council during the Obama administration. He also was a senior advisor to Obama and deputy director and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Potential Nominees

  • The Washington Post reported that Biden has chosen Dr. Vivek Murthy for U.S. surgeon general. Murthy previously held the same position in the Obama administration.
  • Biden said on Thursday that he asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to remain in his administration as chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci confirmed on Friday that he had accepted the offer.
  • Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who was reportedly on the shortlist for secretary of health and human services, said on Thursday that she was not going to join Biden’s administration in that role. “My focus is right here in Rhode Island, as I have said. I’m working 24/7 to keep Rhode Islanders safe and keep our economy moving, and I have nothing else to add on that topic,” she said.
  • The New York Times reported that Tom Donilon, a former national security advisor during the Obama administration, declined to serve as CIA director because he did not want to return to government. Others in consideration for that post include Michael Morell, Sue Gordon, Vincent Stewart, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), and Darrell Block. Biden is also considering former Deputy Director of the CIA David S. Cohen to lead the agency, The New York Times reported. 
  • Bloomberg reported that New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declined an offer to join the Biden administration as secretary of the interior, preferring instead the post of secretary of health and human services. “The Biden team read that — paired with the lack of Latina candidates for other cabinet-level posts — as an effort to force their hand and soured on her candidacy, the person said,” Bloomberg continued.
  • Biden is considering Mustafa Santiago Ali, Cecilia Martinez, and Brenda Mallory to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
  • 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. 
  • Joining Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Marcia Fudge as candidates for agriculture secretary are USDA veteran Kathleen Merrigan, former United Farm Workers union leader Arturo Rodriguez, and former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Politico reported.
  • Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (R) is expected to remain in office when the Biden administration takes power because a president may not remove the postmaster general. Only the Postal Service’s governing board—which is currently composed of six Trump-appointed Republicans—may do so.

Other News

  • Biden announced on Monday that Delaware State University President Tony Allen is leading the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event is unlikely to have a large gathering on the National Mall or a parade through D.C.
  • Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling on Biden to select a Black secretary of defense. Politico reported, “While [Michèle] Flournoy is still the frontrunner, the Biden team, which has promised to be the most diverse U.S. administration in history, is concerned about the optics of the top four Cabinet officials — State, Defense, Treasury and Justice — being white, said one transition official.”
  • Biden is expected to name an appointee to lead a new climate office or policy council similar to the Domestic Policy Council. This would be the second high-level climate position in Biden’s administration following the announcement of climate envoy designate John Kerry.
  • Politico reported that, in anticipation of Republican challenges in the Senate to their appointees, the Biden Transition is focusing on appointments for mid- and lower-level officials at agencies that do not require Senate confirmation. 

Transition in Context: What is ascertainment?

Under the Presidential Transition Act, the administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for ascertaining—or identifying—the apparent winner of the presidential election. Doing so allows the president-elect to begin to receive funding, office space, and support services in the transition between administrations.

The GSA administrator has typically made this ascertainment shortly after the presidential election with the exception of the 2000 presidential election. In that year, the GSA administrator did not ascertain the election until December 13, after the Supreme Court decided the Florida recount case, Bush v. Gore.

The GSA ascertained the results of the election on November 23, 2020, identifying Biden as the apparent winner. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter, “Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision.”

According to the Center for Presidential Transition, recent incoming administrations have had 77 days to prepare for the transfer of power. The Biden Transition will have 57.

Transition in Context: Timing of Announcements

Transition in Context: What is The Plum Book?

The United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions, also known as The Plum Book, is released every four years after the presidential election to provide a list of more than 9,000 key federal civil service positions.This 200-page document is published by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The positions featured are noncompetitive, meaning they can be filled by appointment. Most presidential appointments—1,242 in 2016—require Senate confirmation (PAS). These PAS positions include not only agency heads like the secretary of state or the secretary of the Treasury, but also other roles like the architect of the Capitol, the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, and the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In 2016, another 472 positions were presidential appointments that did not require Senate confirmation (PA). Examples of these PA-only positions include White House chief of staff, director of the National Institute of Justice, and the chairman of the Commission on Civil Rights.

The Plum Book also includes information about thousands of other political appointments, including Senior Executive Service general positions and Senior Foreign Service positions. 

The tradition of the Plum Book has existed for more than six decades.

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.

Transition in Context: In Their Words…

Here’s how Democratic and Republican leaders and advisers have reacted to the nomination of Neera Tanden for director of the Office of Management and Budget.

  • “[Tanden] grew up on welfare and lived in public housing. She experienced firsthand the importance of our social programs. Her extraordinary career has been devoted to improving opportunities for working families. She is an excellent choice to lead OMB.” – Valerie Jarrett (D), former director of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs
  • “She’s been pretty partisan in some of her previous positions. And in many cases, with respect to Republican senators who would have to vote on her potential nomination.” – Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) 
  • “I just think she’s gonna be radioactive.” – Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
  • “Honestly, the hypocrisy is astounding. If Republicans are concerned about criticism on Twitter, their complaints are better directed at President Trump, who has made a hobby out of denigrating Republicans on Twitter.” – Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
  • “I don’t know anyone personally in Bernie world who is happy about this choice. We’re talking about a woman who’s notorious for assaulting Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager.” – Briahna Joy Gray (D), Bernie Sanders’ former national press secretary

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