Recommended subject line: Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: January 9-15, 2021

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 2020, there were 1,472 government positions subject to presidential appointment: 1,118 positions required Senate confirmation and 354 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

William Burns, director of the CIA

Biden announced Wiliam J. Burns, a former ambassador to Russia and Jordan, was his nominee for director of the CIA. Burns retired from the U.S. Foreign Service after 33 years of service in 2014. He was also deputy secretary of state, under secretary of state for political affairs, and an assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. He is currently the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Politico reported that the position, created in 2005, will not be part of Biden’s Cabinet. President Donald Trump (R) was the first and only president to give it Cabinet-rank status.

Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development 

Biden announced on Wednesday that he had selected Samantha Power, a former ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, as his nominee for administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. He also elevated the position to the National Security Council (NSC).

Power was a special assistant to the president and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights from 2009 to 2013 in the Obama administration. She previously worked as an international correspondent and the founding executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Other administration appointments

Biden announced additional appointees to deputy and administrative roles on Friday:

  • Janet McCabe for deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Shalanda Young for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • Jason Miller for deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget
  • David Cohen for deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency
  • Deanne Criswell, FEMA administrator

Biden has also selected David Kessler to lead the federal vaccine distribution program. Kessler was the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration during the Bush I and Clinton administrations. 

Confirmation News

  • Janet Yellen, nominee for secretary of the Treasury, will appear before the Senate Finance Committee.
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee for secretary of homeland security, will appear before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
  • Tony Blinken, nominee for secretary of state, will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  • Three members of the Senate Armed Services Committee—Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)—said they would vote against granting a waiver to Ret. Army General Lloyd Austin to allow him to serve as secretary of defense after leaving military service less than seven years ago.
  • Ten House Republicans called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to not fast track Lloyd Austin’s waiver to serve as secretary of defense. They wrote, “We urge the waiver process to receive full time for deliberation, including committee hearings, a committee vote, and a recorded vote on the House floor.” The signers include Reps. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Mike Turner (R-Ohio), and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee postponed its confirmation hearing for Avril Haines, originally scheduled for Friday, to next week.
  • Interior Secretary nominee Debra Haaland released her financial disclosures, which showed that she received no income beyond her congressional salary and had between $15,000 and $50,000 in student loan debt from her 2006 law degree.

Potential Nominees

  • The Washington Post reported that Biden is likely to select Gary Gensler, a former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Obama administration, as his pick for chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Other News

  • President Donald Trump (R) said he will not attend Biden’s inauguration. The last president not to participate in his successor’s inauguration was Andrew Johnson in 1869. Richard Nixon (R), who resigned from office, also did not attend the swearing-in ceremony of Gerald Ford (R). Vice President Mike Pence (R) said he will attend the event.
  • Politico reported that the Biden Transition was prioritizing confirmation of national security Cabinet nominees Alejandro Mayorkas, Lloyd Austin, and Antony Blinken. “Amid fallout from the deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol, Biden officials and congressional allies will begin making the case Tuesday that there is a unique urgency in getting the positions filled as soon as possible so there is no gap in national security during a presidential transfer of power,” Politico said.
  • The House introduced an article of impeachment against President Donald Trump (R) on Monday. With the possibility of a Senate trial taking place during the first 100 days of Biden’s presidential term, Biden said he was exploring whether both his policy agenda and the trial could be on the Senate schedule at the same time.
  • Bloomberg reported that the Biden Transition was considering what it would take to remove the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Mark Calabria, who was appointed in 2019 to a five-year term. It is not known whether Biden would have the authority to do so. “Any effort to oust Calabria probably wouldn’t be activated unless he starts to take drastic steps to change Fannie and Freddie’s status that the Biden administration would have difficulty reversing, such as trying to release the companies from federal control,” Bloomberg said. On Thursday, the Treasury Department announced it would not restructure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, leaving it to the future Biden administration to decide how to handle the status of the companies. 
  • Biden received a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 on Monday.
  • The Biden Transition said on Tuesday that Biden planned to appoint career officials as interim agency heads during the confirmation process for his nominees.
  • Due to security concerns, Biden will no longer take the Amtrak from Delaware to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration.
  • Google is pausing ads across its channels, including YouTube, that reference impeachment, inauguration, or protests at the Capitol. “We regularly pause ads over unpredictable, ‘sensitive’ events when ads can be used to exploit the event or amplify misleading information,” Google said in a statement.
  • Following Twitter’s announcement that current @POTUS followers will be reset to zero when Biden takes office, the Biden Transition has created a new account in the interim—@PresElectBiden—to build up a following before he takes office. This account will become @POTUS when he is sworn in.
  • Biden will stay in the Blair House, the official residence for presidential guests, the day before his inauguration.

Transition in Context

Biden took 69 days to announce his nominee for director of the CIA. Like President Barack Obama (D), he is not expected to make this position Cabinet-rank.

President Donald Trump (R), who elevated the position to the Cabinet for the first time, named his nominee 10 days after the 2016 presidential election.

Transition in Context: How many cross-party Cabinet secretaries did Obama and Trump have?

President Barack Obama (D) made three cross-party Cabinet appointments in his first term in office:

  • Robert Gates for secretary of defense (who had served in the Bush administration in the same role)
  • Ray LaHood for secretary of transportation (confirmed)
  • Judd Gregg for secretary of commerce (withdrew)

President Donald Trump (R) does not have any Democrats in his Cabinet. While he selected Obama administration official David Shulkin for secretary of veterans affairs, Shulkin is not registered with any party.

Similarly, none of Biden’s Cabinet nominees is a Republican.

Transition in Context: How many Trump and Obama Cabinet nominees withdrew?

Two of President Donald Trump’s (R) Cabinet secretary nominees withdrew from consideration after being nominated:

  • Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor: Politico reported that Puzder did not have sufficient Republican support to be confirmed.
  • Ronny Jackson for secretary of veterans affairs: The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee released a list of allegations against Jackson, including inappropriate medication prescription and drunk driving. Jackson denied the allegations.

Three of President Barack Obama’s (D) Cabinet secretary nominees withdrew:

  • Bill Richardson for secretary of commerce: Richardson was under investigation for his potential involvement in improperly giving a state contract to a donor. The Department of Justice ultimately did not pursue any charges.
  • Judd Gregg for secretary of commerce: Gregg, a Republican, said he had irresolvable conflicts with Obama regarding his economic stimulus plan.
  • Tom Daschle for secretary of health and human services: Daschle failed to pay approximately $140,000 in back taxes. He withdrew because he said he did not have the full faith of the American people.

Senate Committees and the Confirmation Process

Nominations for Cabinet secretaries and other appointments requiring Senate confirmation are reviewed by committees before going to the floor for a full vote. Committees investigate nominees, hold hearings, and take a majority vote on whether to report the candidate to the Senate favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation.

Different committees have jurisdiction over different positions. For example, the Senate Intelligence Committee will review nominees for CIA and national intelligence leadership, while the Energy and National Resources Committee will preside over nominations to the Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

For a complete list of the jurisdiction of each Senate committee, click here.

Transition in Context: In Their Words…

Here’s how Democratic and Republican leaders, advisers, and stakeholders have reacted to granting or opposing a waiver for retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as secretary of defense.

  • “I believe in the importance of civilian control of the military. So does the secretary-designee Austin. He’ll be bolstered by a strong and empowered civilian sector and senior [officials] working [Defense Department] policies and to ensure that our defense policies are accountable to the American people.” – President-elect Joe Biden (D)
  • Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee said that granting a waiver could create a standard where “future presidents will default to nominating retired general officers to the position of secretary of defense, in lieu of qualified civilians.”
  • “It is reasonable to ask whether the appointment of two generals to political positions in four years will increase politicization of the senior military officer corps.” – Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee
  • “The reason for the principle of civilian control is not only to protect our democracy against military interference, it is to protect the military against excessive interference—political partisan interference—that may jeopardize the professionalism and effectiveness of our military.” – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
  • “I supported a one-time waiver in the case of Secretary James Mattis with the belief that the circumstances at the time warranted a rare exception, not the establishment of a new precedent, which erodes the basic principle of civilian control of the military. I would need to take a hard look at the Biden administration’s justification for such a waiver before reaching a conclusion on whether or not one is warranted in this case.” – Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
  • “Voting against a waiver for him, from those who voted yes on a waiver for Mattis, would have a disparate racial impact. Democrats oppose policies with disparate impact because we recognize that race matters. How can anyone justify voting for a different outcome for a highly qualified Black man compared to how Mattis was treated, no matter what facially neutral justification there may be?” – Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)

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