Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: December 12-December 18, 2020

Prior to taking office on January 20, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden (D) and his team must prepare for the transition between presidential administrations, including selecting senior White House staff and appointees to top government positions.

In 2016, there were 1,714 government positions subject to presidential appointment: 1,242 positions required Senate confirmation and 472 did not. The new administration is also responsible for filling thousands of other positions across the federal government, including in operations and policy. Every weekday, Ballotpedia is tracking potential Cabinet nominees, appointments, and news related to the Biden presidential transition.

Appointments and Nominations (Cabinet)

Debra Haaland, Secretary of the Interior

Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) was elected to Congress in 2018. In the 116th Congress, Haaland served on the natural resources and armed services committees. An enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, Haaland would be the first person of Native American descent to serve in this position according to The Washington Post

Haaland’s district, New Mexico’s 1st, is rated Solid Democratic. Vacancies in the U.S. House are filled by special election.

Pete Buttigieg, secretary of transportation

Pete Buttigieg is a former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. He served in the United States Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer, where he earned the rank of lieutenant. He graduated from Harvard University and Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar.

Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy

Jennifer Granholm was governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011 and attorney general of Michigan from 1999 to 2003. Since leaving office, Granholm has worked as an adjunct professor of law and public policy at the University of California-Berkeley, a senior advisor to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program, and a contributor on political talk shows.

Michael Regan, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Michael Regan is the secretary of environmental quality in North Carolina. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) appointed him to the position in January 2017. Regan worked for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clinton and Bush administrations from 1998 to 2008. He would be the first Black man to serve in this position according to The New York Times.

Appointments and Nominations (Non-Cabinet)

Biden’s office announced three other key administration appointments:

  • Brenda Mallory as Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. Mallory is the Director of Regulatory Policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
  • Gina McCarthy as National Climate Advisor. McCarthy would lead the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and work as the counterpart to John Kerry, the presidential envoy for climate. She was EPA Administrator from 2013 to 2017.
  • Ali Zaidi as Deputy National Climate Advisor. Zaidi worked in the Obama administration on the Climate Action Plan and helped negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement.

Potential Nominees

  • Axios reported that Biden is considering selecting a Republican for secretary of Commerce, and mentioned former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman as one possibility.

Other News

  • Biden won 306 electoral votes when Electoral College members met in each state and Washington, D.C., on Monday. President Donald Trump (R) received 232 votes. There were no faithless electors. Congress will count the electoral votes in a joint session on January 6, 2021, and declare a winner—subject to objections to an individual state’s electoral votes raised by the combination of one member each of the House and Senate.
  • The Senate Finance Committee sent questionnaires to Janet Yellen (nominee for treasury secretary) and Xavier Becerra (nominee for health and human services secretary) on Dec. 15. The questionnaires are the beginning of their nomination processes.
  • The Inauguration Committee announced that Biden and Harris will be sworn in on the steps of the Capitol in January. Only members of the 117th Congress and one guest each will be allowed to attend the event in person.
  • Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Biden’s incoming director of the Office of Public Engagement, tested positive for COVID-19. Biden representative Kate Bedingfield said Richmond was not in close contact with Biden, and would quarantine for two weeks and be tested twice before returning to work.
  • CNN reported Biden will receive a COVID-19 vaccine publicly the week of Dec. 21. On Dec. 16, Biden told reporters, “I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take. When I do it, I’ll do it publicly, so you can all witness my getting it done.”

Transition in Context: How the Electoral College Works

Members of the Electoral College in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., met to cast each state’s electoral votes for president and vice president on Dec. 14. But how did the process work? Here’s a quick explainer:

The Electoral College is the process by which the states and District of Columbia elect the president of the United States. The number of each state’s electors is equal to the size of its congressional delegation. The number of electoral votes allocated to each state can change every 10 years or so when the number of U.S. House members are reapportioned after the census.

There were 538 electors in total. To win the Electoral College, a candidate needed to receive a majority—at least 270—electoral votes.

Presidential candidates in each state select a slate of electors that are pledged to support him or her should they win the state. These electors are typically selected by the state party through conventions or a committee vote. When a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, their slate of electors represents that state in the Electoral College. The only exceptions to this are in Maine and Nebraska, which assign two at-large electors to the statewide winner and one elector to the winner of the popular vote in each congressional district.

Each state’s electors meet separately in their respective states and cast paper ballots for president and vice president. The electors then sign and seal six certificates of the vote, as specified by federal law.

These certificates have been posted to the website of the National Archives as they have been received. The certificates must be delivered by Dec. 23 to the president of the U.S. Senate, the state secretary of state (two copies), the archivist of the United States (two copies), and the judge of the U.S. district court in the district where they met. Congress will count the electoral votes in a joint session on Jan. 6 and declare a winner—subject to any objections to an individual state’s electoral votes.

Want to know who the electors are in your state this election cycle? We’re tracking them here.

Transition in Context: Timing of Announcements

Transition in Context: Outcome of 2017 special elections caused by nominations to Trump’s Cabinet

Five special elections were held in 2017 to fill vacancies created by Republican members of Congress who joined the Trump administration. One of the five resulted in a partisan flip to Democratic control. There are expected to be three special elections as a result of members of Congress joining the Biden administration.

  • U.S. Senate in Alabama: Incumbent Jeff Sessions (R) vacated the seat to serve as U.S. attorney general. Democrat Doug Jones won the special election.

Transition in Context: Current SCOTUS Composition

Filling vacancies on the Supreme Court of the United States is one duty of the President of the United States. Who currently serves on the court, who were they nominated by, and how old are they? Find out below.

  • Chief Justice John Roberts, 65, nominated by George W. Bush (R) 
  • Justice Clarence Thomas, 72, nominated by George H.W. Bush (R) 
  • Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, nominated by Bill Clinton (D)
  • Justice Samuel Alito, 70, nominated by George W. Bush (R)
  • Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 66, nominated by Barack Obama (D)
  • Justice Elena Kagan, 60, nominated by Barack Obama (D)
  • Justice Neil Gorsuch, 53, nominated by Donald Trump (R)
  • Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 55, nominated by Donald Trump (R)
  • Justice Amy Coney Barrett, 48, nominated by Donald Trump (R) 

President Donald Trump (R) appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. The four preceding presidents (Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush) appointed two justices each.

Trump’s three and H.W. Bush’s two appointments came during one-term presidencies. Obama, W. Bush, and Clinton made their two appointments to the court over two presidential terms.

Transition in Context: In Their Words…

Here’s how Democratic and Republican leaders, advisers, and stakeholders have reacted to the nomination of Pete Buttigieg for Secretary of Transportation.

  • “As a former city leader here in Indiana, Pete understands how critical infrastructure is to growth and opportunity. It will be good to have a Hoosier serving in this capacity.” – U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), member of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee
  • “I would push back [against the notion that Buttigieg is not qualified] by saying he’s extraordinarily talented. He’s got a lot of what we call out here Midwest common sense, he’s a hard worker. And I think he’ll serve, not you know as a Democrat or Republican obviously but as somebody trying to lead all of America, every community, rural, urban, wherever to be stronger.” – Former U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
  • “He may not have the experience right now. His experience on the national level with transportation is going to be limited coming in.” – Eric Horvath, South Bend public works director
  • “Former-Mayor Buttigieg’s forward-looking approach supported by data-driven decision making will serve him well as the next Secretary of Transportation. On behalf of AAR and the nation’s rail industry, we look forward to working with Mr. Buttigieg to modernize the nation’s surface transportation.” – Ian Jefferies, president of the Association of American Railroads
  • “Pete Buttigieg is committed to transformational infrastructure investment that creates good jobs and he is ready to lead the fight for transportation workers. The TWU is looking forward to working with Secretary-designate Buttigieg to invest in public transit, raise safety standards for aircraft maintenance, prioritize Amtrak, and ensure that workers benefit from new technologies like autonomous vehicles as our economy grows.” – John Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers Union

What We’re Reading