Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: February 27-March 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 Miguel Cardona as secretary of education on Monday evening by a vote of 64-33. All 33 votes against his confirmation came from Republicans. He was sworn into office on Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris.
  • The Senate confirmed Gina Raimondo for secretary of commerce on Tuesday by a vote of 84-15. Raimondo resigned as governor of Rhode Island, and the state’s lieutenant governor, Dan McKee (D), was sworn into office.
  • The Senate confirmed Cecilia Rouse to chair the Council of Economic Advisers on Tuesday by a vote of 95-4. Four Republicans opposed her confirmation: Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Rick Scott (Fla.), and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.). Rouse is the first Biden nominee that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) voted to confirm.
  • The White House announced on Tuesday that Neera Tanden had requested to be withdrawn from consideration for director of the Office of Management Budget due to opposition to her nomination. Biden said in a statement that he had accepted her request: “I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my Administration. She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work.”
  • The Senate Finance Committee split along party lines, 14-14, on whether to favorably report Xavier Becerra‘s nomination for secretary of health and human services on Wednesday. As a result, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will need to move to discharge the nomination from the committee to get a vote on the Senate floor for Becerra.
  • The Senate Finance Committee also advanced Katherine Tai’s nomination for U.S. trade representative by voice vote.
  • The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources advanced the nomination of Debra Haaland for secretary of the interior by a vote of 11-9 on Thursday.

Executive Actions

  • Biden issued six proclamations on Monday to commemorate the following daily, weekly, and monthly observances:
    • National Consumer Protection Week
    • Women’s History Month
    • American Red Cross Month
    • National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
    • Read Across America Day
    • Irish-American Heritage Month
  • Biden issued three notices on Wednesday regarding the continuation of national emergencies related to Zimbabwe, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

Other News

  • The House passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 on Saturday. The $1.9 trillion bill advanced to the Senate for consideration. For more information about the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
  • The Biden administration announced Sunday that it was resuming peace negotiations with the Taliban.
  • Biden virtually met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to discuss immigration and economic issues and the coronavirus on Monday.
  • The Biden administration issued sanctions against associates of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia for their involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A declassified intelligence report released on Feb. 26 said bin Salman approved Khashoggi’s capture or death. Biden did not directly sanction bin Salman. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Sunday, “We believe there [are] more effective ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again and to also be able to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement.”
  • Biden said states should prioritize distributing COVID-19 vaccinations to teachers with a goal of every school staff member receiving at least one dose by the end of March. For more information about the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
  • Biden reportedly selected Seth Harris, who served as acting secretary of labor during the Obama administration, to be his top labor adviser. In this capacity, Harris will work with the Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council.
  • The Pentagon announced that Ukraine will receive a $125 military aid package. The department said that it “encourages Ukraine to continue to enact reforms that strengthen civilian control of the military, promote increased transparency and accountability in defense industry and procurement, and modernize its defense sector in other key areas in line with NATO principles and standards.”
  • The U.S. Forest Service nullified the publication of an environmental impact study that would have allowed for the transfer of Arizona land to a copper mine project.
  • Biden announced his support for Amazon warehouse workers’ efforts to unionize in Alabama, although he did not explicitly name the company in his statement.
  • Politico reported that Biden did not have enough votes in the House to pass his immigration legislation. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, suggested it would not be considered until April. “We need to engage in some consultation with key members and stakeholders, but I see no reason why we wouldn’t mark it up when we reconvene in April,” Nadler said.
  • The Department of Justice requested the Supreme Court dismiss three lawsuits relating to the withholding of federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions. It said it had reached an agreement with the jurisdictions at issue. The department, under the Trump administration, had sought to block jurisdictions that did not cooperate with federal immigration authorities from receiving certain aid.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that Biden canceled a second airstrike on a target in Syria to avoid civilian casualties on February 26, 2021.
  • Biden will meet with leaders from Australia, India, and Japan as part of the first meeting of the Quad bloc—four democratic Indo-Pacific countries. No date was set for the event.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris (D) cast her third tie-breaking vote to proceed with debate on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 on Thursday. The Senate had split 50-50 along party lines.

Transition in Context: How have senators have voted on Biden Cabinet nominees?

As of March 5, the following senators have voted against most of Biden’s nominees:

Hawley discussed his voting record on Monday, saying, “I take them one at a time, if there is someone I think will be good to Missouri, that I can defend to my voters, somebody who I think is going to be good for the job, I’ll vote for them.” The only nominee he supported was Cecilia Rouse for chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Four Republicans have supported all 13 of Biden’s nominees so far:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only Democrat or independent who caucuses with the Democrats to vote against a Biden nominee: Tom Vilsack for secretary of agriculture.

Sanders said, “I opposed his confirmation…because at a time when corporate consolidation of agriculture is rampant and family farms are being decimated, we need a secretary who is prepared to vigorously take on corporate power in the industry.”

Transition in Context: Comparison of Confirmation Pace

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) and Joe Biden (D). It does not include Cabinet-rank officials that vary by administration.

Five weeks after their respective inaugurations, Biden had 10 of these secretaries confirmed, Trump had 13, and Obama had 12. A thirteenth Obama Cabinet member—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—was held over from the Bush administration.

Transition in Context: Who could be the new nominee for OMB director?

Here are the candidates the White House is reportedly considering as alternative nominees for director of the Office of Management and Budget:

  • Shalanda Young is a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee. She has a confirmation hearing this week for her nomination for OMB deputy director.
  • Gene Sperling was previously in consideration for the position. He was director of the National Economic Council in both the Clinton and Obama administration.
  • Ann O’Leary was California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) former chief of staff. O’Leary worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
  • Martha Coven was the associate director for Education, Income Maintenance, and Labor in the OMB during the Obama administration. She was also involved in Biden’s search committee for the OMB.
  • Sarah Bianchi was a deputy assistant to the president for economic policy in the Obama administration and longtime Biden policy aide.

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. The Senate Finance Committee split along party lines, 14-14, on whether to favorably report his nomination.

  • “If a doctor were nominated for Attorney General, everyone would say ‘he’s not qualified.’ Apparently, however, it is okay to nominate an Attorney General for HHS Secretary. A HHS Secretary should have some expertise in the subject matter. Previous appointees have been governors, a state insurance commissioner, health administrators or doctor, and a pharmaceutical executive.” – Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)
  • “If there is an effort to paint the Attorney General as some kind of inexperienced radical, it’s just not backed up by what the committee saw last week. He respects those with whom he has differences of opinion, and he wants to find common ground with all members of this committee to solve big healthcare challenges.” – Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
  • “Significant concerns have been raised about Attorney General Becerra’s challenges to HHS’ authority to provide a conscience exemption from the Obamacare contraception coverage mandate and enforcement of the state’s restrictive actions, including a ban on indoor religious services that was rejected by the Supreme Court.” – Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
  • “”HHS has always been a critical role, but especially during a pandemic. Attorney General Becerra’s experience will be a tremendous asset as he works to address the pandemic and make healthcare more affordable. … I know he’ll put American families at the top of his agenda.” – Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

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