Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: February 15-19, 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 will debate and vote on Tom Vilsack‘s nomination for secretary of agriculture on Feb. 23.
  • The Budget Committee scheduled a vote on whether to advance Neera Tanden‘s nomination for director of the Office of Management and Budget for Feb. 24. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs also held a confirmation hearing for Tanden and has not scheduled a vote yet.
  • The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will meet Feb. 24 to decide whether to advance Isabel Guzman‘s nomination for administrator of the Small Business Administration to a full Senate vote.
  • The following confirmation hearings are scheduled for next week:
  • On Feb. 22 and Feb. 23, the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings for Merrick Garland for attorney general. 
  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee scheduled a confirmation hearing for Xavier Becerra‘s nomination for secretary of health and human services for Feb. 23. 
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee scheduled a confirmation hearing for Debra Haaland‘s nomination for secretary of the interior for Feb. 23.
  • The Senate Finance Committee scheduled a confirmation hearing for Katherine Tai, Biden’s nominee for U.S. trade representative, for Feb. 25. 

Executive Actions

  • Biden signed an executive order on Feb. 14 relaunching the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office was established by George W. Bush, aimed at partnering with faith-based and secular organizations to deliver services. President Donald Trump did not appoint a director of the office during his tenure, creating instead the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives. Melissa Rogers, who served as executive director of the office under President Barack Obama, is reassuming that role under Biden. 
  • Biden signed an executive order on Feb. 17 rescinding Donald Trump’s executive order creating industry-recognized apprenticeships. Biden said the programs “have fewer quality standards than registered apprenticeship programs.” Biden also endorsed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, which he said would expand registered apprenticeships, and reinstated the National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships.

Other News

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Feb. 12 that the Biden administration intends to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and would begin a review process. 
  • The Washington Post reported on Feb. 12 that the “Biden administration is seeking a court’s blessing to propose a new rule aimed at limiting greenhouse gas pollution from the nation’s power plants.” 
  • Biden issued a statement on Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Feb. 13 after the Senate acquitted Trump of incitement of insurrection. Biden said, “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
  • Based on an executive order from January, opened a special enrollment period Feb. 15, ending May 15. 
  • Biden participated in a CNN town hall on Feb. 16. Anderson Cooper moderated.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of Agriculture announced extensions to forbearance and foreclosure relief programs. They extended the foreclosure moratorium and the mortgage payment forbearance enrollment deadline to June 30 and are providing up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance for those who entered forbearance on or before June 30, 2020.
  • On Feb. 16, the Department of Homeland Security disapproved a contract that former acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli signed with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) union. The contract would have granted ICE employees a say in immigration policy decisions. A DHS spokesperson said, “DHS will make policy decisions in accordance with the law and based on what’s best for national security, public safety, and border security while upholding our nation’s values.”
  • Axios reported that Tracy Renaud, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, signed a memo encouraging immigration officials to use “more inclusive language in the agency’s outreach efforts, internal documents and in overall communication with stakeholders, partners and the general public.” Officials have been encouraged to replace the word “alien” with “noncitizen” and “illegal alien” with “undocumented noncitizen” or “undocumented individual.”
  • On Feb. 17, Biden nominated Jennifer Abruzzo for general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. He also nominated Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to serve as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) introduced Biden’s immigration proposal in the Senate and House on Feb. 18. The bill would provide an eight-year path for people living in the country without legal permission to become citizens, remove restrictions on family-based immigration, and expand worker visas. According to The New York Times, it also “invests $4 billion over four years in distressed economies in the hopes of preventing people from fleeing to the United States because of security and economic crises.” 
  • Interim guidance went into effect Feb. 18 for Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees. The guidance establishes three priority categories for arresting and deporting noncitizens in the country without permission: people seen as posing a national security threat, such as those engaged in espionage or terrorism; those who entered the U.S. on or after Nov. 1, 2020; and those seen as posing a threat to public safety and convicted of an aggravated felony or involved in gang activity. The guidance remains in effect until Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas releases new guidelines.  
  • The Biden administration announced on Feb. 18 it is willing to begin talks with Iran and world leaders about returning to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, from which Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. Biden also rescinded Trump’s restoration of U.N. sanctions on Iran.

Transition in Context: In Their Words…

Here’s what Democratic and Republican leaders, advisers, and stakeholders said about Xavier Becerra as the nominee for secretary of health and human services.

  • “Curiously, the President’s candidate to run the Department of Health and Human Services is the famously partisan Attorney General of California. His recent experience in health policy seems largely limited to promoting abortion on-demand and suing groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor who dare to live out their religious convictions.” — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R)
  • “I think he’s going to be the perfect wingman to the Bernie Sanders approach to healthcare. … My main reservation is … why would you not want to reform the healthcare system before you get government more involved with it?” — Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
  • “There are a lot of partisans in Washington. … That is not Xavier’s style. He doesn’t have sharp elbows. Yes, he’s left of center. But he is not a ‘my way or the highway’ type.’” — Former Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.)
  • “The story his record tells alone is clear, compelling, and persuasive. He has fought against tobacco companies, pharmaceutical companies, and polluters, and for the Affordable Care Act, reproductive rights, and the health and wellbeing of migrant children. With a record like that there can be no doubt he is going to continue to be a champion for patients as Secretary of Health and Human Services.” — Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

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). They do not include Cabinet-rank officials that vary by administration.

Four weeks after their respective inaugurations, Biden had six Cabinet secretaries confirmed and Obama had eleven. A twelfth Obama Cabinet member—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—was held over from the Bush administration. Trump had nine of these secretaries confirmed.

Transition in Context: Reconciliation primer

What is reconciliation?

Reconciliation is a process Congress can use to expedite consideration of certain budget-related bills. Reconciliation bills are not subject to filibuster in the Senate. A filibuster occurs when debate on a bill is extended, allowing one or more senators to delay or prevent a vote on a given proposal, since 60 votes are required to end a filibuster. With reconciliation, debate on a proposal is capped at 20 hours. 

Congress has begun the reconciliation process on Biden’s “American Rescue Plan,” a $1.9 trillion proposal he says will provide relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. The House agreed to the Senate’s budget resolution on Feb. 5—the first step in the process. Control of the Senate is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris (D) casting tie-breaking votes. 

Budget reconciliation was created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. Under the act, reconciliation can be used on legislation that changes the federal debt limit, revenue, or spending. 

The Process

For reconciliation measures to be considered by Congress, a budget resolution must be agreed to by both chambers. This resolution must include resolution instructions. Resolution instructions contain four elements:

1. the relevant committee(s) to which the instruction is directed,

2. the deadline by which committee compliance must be achieved,

3. the specific change to either revenues, spending, or the debt (in dollars), and

4. the time period over which those budgetary changes must be achieved.

Once both chambers agree on a budget resolution, committees have until deadlines specified in the resolution guidelines to produce reconciliation measures. 

Once a committee develops reconciliation measures, the committee votes on whether to report the resolution to the chamber. 

If the measure passes, differences between the chambers are usually resolved in conference. The Senate, however, limits debate time on a conference budget resolution.


Congress is limited to using reconciliation for only one bill for each of the fiscal changes provided for in the reconciliation instructions (changes to revenues, spending, and the debt limit). A single bill may make changes to all three, or two of three, but Congress cannot consider multiple bills satisfying the same instruction in a budget resolution. 

In the Senate, reconciliation measures are subject to the Byrd Rule, named for the sponsor of the rule, former Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.). The Byrd Rule permits senators to block provisions of reconciliation bills that are considered extraneous.

History of use

Since the introduction of the reconciliation process in 1974, Congresses have passed 21 reconciled bills. Four of those were vetoed—three by President Bill Clinton and one by President Barack Obama. The rest became law.

Click here to learn more about reconciliation and the filibuster. 

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