Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: February 20-26, 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 Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday by a vote of 78-20. All 20 no votes came from Republicans.
  • The Senate also confirmed Tom Vilsack to serve as secretary of agriculture on Tuesday by a vote of 92-7.
    • Six Republicans voted against his confirmation: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
    • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also voted against Vilsack, marking the first time a Democrat or independent who caucuses with Democrats voted against a Biden nominee.
  • The Senate confirmed Jennifer Granholm for secretary of energy by a vote of 64-35 on Thursday. All 35 no votes came from Republicans.
    • Her nomination received the second-most opposition of Biden’s nominees so far, following the confirmation of Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of homeland security by a vote of 56-43.
    • Granholm, who was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday evening, is the tenth member of Biden’s Cabinet to be confirmed. 
  • Four Cabinet-rank nominees had confirmation hearings this week:
    • The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing for Katherine Tai for U.S. trade representative.
    • The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held two days of confirmation hearings for Debra Haaland for secretary of the interior.
    • The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing for Xavier Becerra for secretary of health and human services. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions also held a hearing for Becerra.
    • The Senate Judiciary Committee held confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland for attorney general.
  • The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship advanced Isabel Guzman’s nomination for administrator of the Small Business Administration by a vote of 15-5.
  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) said he would support Debra Haaland’s nomination for secretary of the interior, indicating she could have enough support to be confirmed along party lines, according to The New York Times.
  • The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the Senate Budget Committee postponed planned votes on Neera Tanden’s nomination for director of the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday. When asked about the delay, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on Wednesday, “It didn’t look like she had the votes.”

Executive Actions

  • Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday that lifted a ban on certain types of immigrant visas, revoking an executive order by President Donald Trump (R). Biden also revoked Trump executive orders on agency rulemaking, government review of certain welfare programs, and the architecture of federal buildings.
  • Biden signed another executive order on Wednesday calling for the review of global supply chains for computer chips, large-capacity batteries used in electric vehicles, pharmaceuticals and related products, and critical minerals.
  • Biden issued a proclamation on Monday to memorialize the more than 500,000 Americans who have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He ordered the flag to be flown at half-staff until February 26.

Other News

  • Biden ordered airstrikes in Syria on buildings used by Iran-backed militant groups, marking the first known use of military force by his administration. The Pentagon said it was a retaliatory strike in response to attacks in Iraq on American and allied personnel.
  • Biden is traveling to Texas on Friday in his first visit to a major disaster site as president. He will meet with local leaders to discuss relief efforts and promote coronavirus vaccinations. On Feb. 20, Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas, giving  77 of the state’s 254 counties access to federal assistance.
  • Biden announced his nominees to fill three vacancies on the nine-member U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors on Wednesday: Anton Hajjar, Amber McReynolds, and Ron Stroman. The other six members include four Republicans and two Democrats. If the Senate confirms Biden’s nominees, Democrats will have enough votes to remove Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee.  
  • Drew Tipton, a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, granted a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration’s 100-day moratorium on deportations. The injunction applies to all states. Tipton is a Trump appointee. 
  • Biden held his first bilateral meeting as president with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday. The meeting took place virtually.
  • The Biden administration adjusted the Paycheck Protection Program’s guidelines effective Feb. 24. Under the new rules, sole proprietors will be eligible to receive more aid. For companies with 20 or more employees, there will be a 14-day freeze on loans.

Transition in Context: National Security Council

The National Security Council was established by the National Security Act of 1947 to provide the president with advice from and coordination between national security and foreign policy leaders and experts. The president is the chair of council.

In the Biden administration, the following individuals regularly attend National Security Council meetings:

The counsel to the president and legal advisor to the National Security Council are also invited to attend each meeting.

Other senior officials, including the COVID-19 response coordinator and special presidential envoy for climate, are invited to meetings when appropriate.

Transition in Context: Pace of Confirmations

The following chart compares 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.

Thirty-six days after their respective inaugurations, Biden had 8 of these secretaries confirmed and Obama had 12. A thirteenth Obama Cabinet member—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—was held over from the Bush administration. Trump had nine confirmed.

Transition in Context: In Their Words…

Here’s what Democratic and Republican leaders, advisers, and stakeholders said about Debra Haaland as the nominee for secretary of the interior. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held Haaland’s confirmation hearings from Feb. 23-24. The committee has not yet voted on her nomination.

  • “After our conversation, I’m deeply concerned with the Congresswoman’s support on several radical issues that will hurt Montana, our way of life, our jobs and rural America, including her support for the Green New Deal and President Biden. … I’m not convinced the Congresswoman can divorce her radical views and represent what’s best for Montana and all stakeholders in the West. Unless my concerns are addressed, I will block her confirmation.” – Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.)
  • “Deb Haaland’s experience and commitment to restoring the public trust and the mission of this important agency is a breath of fresh air after the last four years of her predecessors’ shameful neglect and outright mission abandonment. As the first-ever Native American to serve as Secretary, she will bring a new and necessary voice to the agency that is crucial to Oregon and all of America.” – Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
  • “Her vocal opposition to oil and gas production on federal lands will only encourage President Biden along the illegal and reckless path that he has begun. Representative Haaland must demonstrate that she will follow the law, protect the multiple uses of our public lands, and reject policies that will force energy workers into the unemployment line. I won’t support her nomination otherwise.” – Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
  • “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.” – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)

Transition in Context: Executive Orders in the First Month

The following table compares the number of executive orders issued by each of the four most recent presidents during his first month in office.

Biden has issued more executive orders during this time period than his three predecessors. Trump issued the most executive orders per year on average: 55.

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