Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: January 23-29, 2021

President Joe Biden (D) and his team have been preparing for the transition between presidential administrations since the election, 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 administration.

  • The Senate confirmed Janet Yellen for secretary of the Treasury on Monday by a vote of 84-15. All 15 senators who voted against her confirmation were Republicans. She is the first woman to serve in this position.
  • The Senate confirmed the nomination of Antony Blinken for secretary of state on Tuesday by a vote of 78-22. All votes against his nomination came from Republicans. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) are the only senators to vote against all four confirmed members of Biden’s Cabinet so far.
  • Next week, the following confirmation hearings have been scheduled:
    • Tom Vilsack, nominee for secretary of agriculture, will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on Feb. 2.
    • Michael Regan, nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will appear before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Feb. 3.
  • The following confirmation hearings were held this week:
    • Gina Raimondo, nominee for secretary of commerce, appeared before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
    • Jennifer Granholm, nominee for secretary of energy, appeared before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Wednesday.
    • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
    • Denis McDonough, nominee for secretary of veterans affairs, appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
    • Marcia Fudge, nominee for secretary of housing and urban development, and Cecilia Rouse, nominee for chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, appeared before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on Thursday.
  • The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted 21-3 in favor of Pete Buttigieg’s nomination for secretary of transportation on Wednesday. Three Republicans voted against advancing him: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Rick Scott (R-Fla.). 
  • By a vote of 55-42, the Senate invoked cloture on the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of homeland security on Thursday. His confirmation vote is scheduled for Feb. 1. 

Executive Actions

  • Biden repealed the ban on transgender servicemembers in the military through an executive order.
  • Biden imposed a ban on most non-U.S. citizens traveling from South Africa effective Jan. 23. He also reinstated a travel ban on non-U.S. citizen travelers from Brazil, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and 26 other countries on Monday.
  • Biden signed an executive order on Monday directing federal agencies to purchase American-made goods and services where possible. He instructed the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to make recommendations to the Federal Acquisition Regulation to further this goal within 180 days.
  • Biden issued an executive order on Tuesday to phase out federal use of privately operated criminal detention facilities and prisons.
  • On Tuesday, Biden also signed three other executive actions focused on racial equity. The actions addressed anti-discrimination housing policies, the sovereignty of Native American tribes, and violence and xenophobia against Asian Americans.
  • Biden issued two executive orders on Wednesday establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and policies to address climate change, including halting new oil and natural gas development on public lands and offshore waters.
  • Biden signed an executive order on Thursday to create a special enrollment period for the federal healthcare marketplace. The Department of Health and Human Services will reopen enrollment from February 15 to May 15.
  • Biden also signed a presidential memorandum ending the Mexico City policy, a prohibition on federal funds being sent to non-governmental organizations that provide access to or information about abortion.

Other News

  • On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)  said the reconciliation process was one tool Democrats were considering to move forward on Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan.
  • Federal judge Drew Tipton temporarily blocked Biden’s pause on deportations for 100 days. Tipton wrote, “The Jan. 20 memorandum not only fails to consider potential policies more limited in scope and time, but it also fails to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations.” Tipton was appointed by President Donald Trump (R).

Transition in Context: Pace of Confirmations

The following two charts compare the pace of Senate confirmations for the 15 main Cabinet secretaries following the inaugurations of Presidents Barack Obama (D), Donald Trump (R) and Joe Biden (D).

Nine days after their respective inaugurations, Trump had two Cabinet secretaries confirmed and Biden had three.

Obama had 10 Cabinet secretaries confirmed. An eleventh Obama Cabinet member—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—was held over from the Bush administration.

Transition in Context: Ambassadorships

Ambassadors are the highest-ranking diplomatic representative of the United States to another country. While most ambassadors are career foreign service officers, the president may fill a post with a political appointee outside of the United States Foreign Service.

According to the American Foreign Service Association in 2020, approximately 44% of President Donald Trump’s (R) ambassador nominations were political appointees rather than career diplomats. The historical average is 30%.

Except for Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Cabinet-rank nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Biden has not made ambassador nominations.

Transition in Context: In Their Words…

Here’s what Democratic and Republican leaders, advisers, and stakeholders said about the nomination of Debra Haaland for secretary of the interior.

“The nomination of Representative Haaland as Interior Secretary embodies clear support for the Green New Deal and a rejection of even the potential of high-wage jobs. Therefore, we implore in the strongest terms to withdraw the nomination of Representative Haaland and instead nominate a consensus-driven individual who will not implement policies that will kill jobs and increase the country’s reliance on foreign adversaries.” – Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) and 14 other House Republicans

“I believe Congresswoman Haaland is uniquely qualified to serve as Secretary of Interior during this critical moment. As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, she has built a strong reputation working with her colleagues as a seeker of solutions. Her bold leadership is what the Department of the Interior needs to tackle the monumental challenge of preserving the natural world around us for future generations. I hope my Senate colleagues will join me in a fair and fast consideration and confirmation of her historic nomination to become our nation’s first Native American Cabinet Secretary.”  – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)

Transition in Context: Financial Disclosures

As part of the confirmation process for political appointees, they must submit a public financial disclosure report including assets, income, retirement accounts, and liabilities. The United  States Office of Government Ethics publishes these reports.

Click on the following links to see public financial disclosure reports for nominees with confirmation hearings next week:

  • Tom Vilsack, nominee for secretary of agriculture
  • Michael Regan, nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

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