Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: January 30 – February 5, 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 Pete Buttigieg for secretary of transportation on Tuesday by a vote of 86-13. Thirteen Republicans voted against his nomination. Buttigieg is the only Biden nominee, out of six so far, that Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has supported. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has opposed all six confirmations so far. Buttigieg is the first openly gay person to be confirmed as a Cabinet secretary.
  • The Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of homeland security on Tuesday by a vote of 56-43. Six Republicans supported his confirmation: Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
  • The following confirmation hearings were held this week:
  • The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a confirmation hearing for Marty Walsh for secretary of labor on Thursday.
  • The Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor, and Pensions held a confirmation hearing for Miguel Cardona for secretary of education on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Committee on Small Business held a confirmation hearing for Isabel Guzman for administrator of the Small Business Administration on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a confirmation hearing for Michael Regan for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday.
  • Tom Vilsack, nominee for secretary of agriculture, appeared before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on Tuesday.
  • No committee hearings are scheduled Friday. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Budget Committee scheduled Neera Tanden’s confirmation hearings for director of the Office of Management and Budget over two days next week: February 9-10.
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield for ambassador to the U.N. by a vote of 18-4 on Thursday.
  • The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs advanced the nomination of Marcia Fudge for secretary of housing and urban development by a vote of 17-7 on Thursday.
  • The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation advanced the nomination of Gina Raimondo for secretary of commerce by a vote of 21-3 on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources advanced the nomination of  Jennifer Granholm for secretary of energy by a vote of 13-4 on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs unanimously advanced the nomination of Denis McDonough for secretary of veterans affairs on Tuesday.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) placed a hold on the confirmation vote for Gina Raimondo for secretary of commerce on Thursday, citing concerns with her position on whether the  activity of Chinese company Huawei should be restricted in the U.S. A hold is a procedural tool any senator can use to temporarily block movement on a nominee’s confirmation process.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, rejected a request from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to hold a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland for U.S. attorney general on February 8. Graham said, “Proceeding with the confirmation of an attorney general and the impeachment of a former president at the same time would give neither the attention required.” He added that a one-day hearing was insufficient. Durbin said the committee had received Garland’s paperwork nearly two weeks before, giving them time to have reviewed the materials. Durbin also said that he was “prepared to take other steps to expedite the Senate’s consideration of Judge Garland’s nomination should his hearing not go forward on February 8.”

Executive Actions

  • Biden signed two memoranda on Thursday directing relevant federal agencies to advance protections for the human rights of LGBT people abroad and modernizing how the national security community approaches workforce issues, including recruitment and retention of workers with critical skills.
  • Biden also signed an executive order on Thursday to expand the U.S. refugee admissions program. In a fact sheet, the Biden White House said the administration had a goal of 125,000 refugee admissions in its first fiscal year.
  • Biden issued three proclamations on Wednesday regarding Black History Month, American Heart Month, and National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention.
  • On Tuesday, Biden signed executive orders on family separations, border security, and legal immigration processes on Tuesday.
  • Biden signed a proclamation on Monday to reimpose a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports from the United Arab Emirates. President Donald Trump (R) had lifted the tariff in a proclamation on January 19. 

Other News

  • Vice President Kamala Harris (D) cast her first tie-breaking vote in the Senate on Friday as part of the budget reconciliation process being used to pass a COVID-19 relief package.
  • The Federal Labor Relations Authority said all 10 members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel were asked to submit their resignations by Tuesday. “It is customary when control of the White House is transferred between political parties for the new president to replace the panel’s membership, but President Joe Biden acted more quickly than his predecessors,” Bloomberg Law reported.
  • Roger Severino, a member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, is suing the Biden administration for calling on him to resign or be fired. Severino’s lawsuit said Biden did not have the constitutional authority to terminate Severino since the board is an advisory entity. The White House had not commented, according to Politico.
  • The Biden Administration intends to focus on filling vacancies in the judicial system and establishing a pipeline for potential nominees. “The new administration will take a page from the Trump White House and speed up the process by forgoing the American Bar Association review of candidates in advance of formal nominations,” The Washington Post reported.
  • Biden delivered his first major foreign policy speech as president on Monday. The speech’s theme was “restoring America’s place in the world,” according to an administration official.

Transition in Context: Executive Actions

Biden has signed 29 executive orders, 13 presidential memoranda, and eight proclamations since taking office.

In his first two weeks in office, he signed 28 executive orders. This is more executive orders than his three predecessors combined—Presidents Donald Trump (R), Barack Obama (D), and George W. Bush (R)—signed over the same period of time.

Executive orders are directives written by the president to officials within the executive branch requiring them to take or stop some action related to policy or management. They are numbered, published in the Federal Register, and cite the authority by which the president is making the order.

Presidential memoranda also include instructions directed at executive officials, but they are neither numbered nor have the same publication requirements. The Office of Management and Budget is also not required to issue a budgetary impact statement on the subject of the memoranda.

In his 2014 book, By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action, Phillip J. Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University, wrote, “As a practical matter, the memorandum is now being used as the equivalent of an executive order, but without meeting the legal requirements for an executive order.”

Proclamations are a third type of executive directive that typically relate to private individuals or ceremonial events, such as holidays and commemorations.

Click here to see a list of executive actions by Biden.

Transition in Context: Expanding Cabinet

Each administration gives Cabinet-rank status to different officials outside of the 15 main Cabinet secretaries and vice president.

President Joe Biden (D) has given Cabinet-rank status to nine positions:

  • White House chief of staff
  • Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • U.S. trade representative
  • Director of National Intelligence
  • Administrator of the Small Business Administration
  • Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
  • Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy

President Donald Trump (R) did not include the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, ambassador to the United Nations, or director of Office of Science and Technology Policy in his final Cabinet. He did include the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

President Barack Obama (D) established a Cabinet similar to Biden’s but did not include the directors of National Intelligence or Office of Science and Technology Policy.

President George W. Bush (R) had fewer—just five—Cabinet-rank members. He included some familiar positions: the White House chief of staff, OMB director, U.S. trade representative, and EPA administrator.

Bush also named the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to his Cabinet—something none of his three successors have done.

Transition in Context: Pace of Confirmations

The following two charts compare the pace of Senate confirmations for the main Cabinet members—the 15 agency heads in the presidential line of succession—following the inaugurations of Presidents Barack Obama (D), Donald Trump (R) and Joe Biden (D). It does not include Cabinet-rank officials that vary by administration.

Two weeks after their respective inaugurations, Biden and Trump both had five Cabinet secretaries confirmed.

Obama had 11 Cabinet secretaries confirmed. A twelfth Obama Cabinet member—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—was held over from the Bush administration.

Transition in Context: In Their Words…

Here’s what Democratic and Republican leaders, advisers, and stakeholders said about scheduling a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland for U.S. attorney general.

  • “The Democrats have chosen the agenda and they’ve chosen to do the budget resolution, so if there’s a delay in nomination it’s because it’s their choice.” – Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
  • “I look forward to questioning Judge Garland and potentially supporting his nomination, but not on February 8. Proceeding with the confirmation of an attorney general and the impeachment of a former president at the same time would give neither the attention required.” – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
  • “At this point, there is simply no justification to object to a February 8 hearing for Judge Garland.  First, a February 8 hearing accommodates your desire not to hold a hearing on Judge Garland’s nomination during a day when the Senate will be conducting the impeachment trial of former President Trump. Second, a February 8 hearing affords ample time to review Judge Garland’s record. … Third — and most importantly — to delay Judge Garland’s hearing jeopardizes our national security.” – Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
  • “[Mitch] McConnell said we’re not going to do any noms during budget resolution or impeachment. Other than just because he can do that, I don’t know why he would do that.” – Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)

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