Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: March 6-12, 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.

  • On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed three members of Biden’s Cabinet.
    • The Senate confirmed Marcia Fudge as secretary of housing and urban development by a vote of 66-34. All 34 votes against her confirmation came from Republicans. A special election will be held in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District to fill the vacant seat Fudge previously held.
    • The Senate confirmed Merrick Garland as attorney general by a vote of 70-30. All 30 votes against his confirmation came from Republicans.
    • The Senate also confirmed Michael Regan as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency by a vote of 66-34. All 34 votes against his confirmation came from Republicans.
  • The Senate agreed to discharge the nomination of Xavier Becerra for secretary of health and human services on Thursday after he did not receive a recommendation from the Senate Committee on Finance. The 51-48 vote sets Becerra up for a potential confirmation vote next week. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined the Democrats in supporting the discharge petition.

Executive Actions

  • Biden issued an executive order on Sunday directing federal agencies to submit proposals on how to promote voter registration and participation and improve access to information about upcoming elections. The executive order also calls for the website to be modernized.
  • Biden signed two executive orders on Monday calling for the evaluation of Title IX rules on how sexual harassment and assault cases are handled at educational institutions and establishing a Gender Policy Council.

Other News

  • Twelve states, led by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R), filed a lawsuit against Biden on Monday over an executive order he issued to assess the costs of and damages associated with greenhouse gas pollution. Schmitt called the executive order unlawful federal overreach. In addition to Missouri, the following states are involved: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.
  • Biden nominated Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost as commander of the United States Transportation Command and Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson as commander of the United States Southern Command. If confirmed, they would be the second and third women to lead a combatant command.
  • Biden selected Clare Martorana as his federal chief information officer on Tuesday. Martorana previously served as the chief information officer for the Office of Personnel Management. 
  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved a request to keep 2,300 National Guard members deployed at the Capitol through May 23.
  • Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021—which includes direct stimulus payments, extended unemployment benefits, and increased funding for vaccine distribution—on Wednesday. For more information about the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
  • Biden delivered his first primetime address as president on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the beginning of coronavirus-related shutdowns. He announced that he is directing all states to expand eligibility for coronavirus vaccines to all individuals over the age of 18 by May 1.
  • Biden is meeting virtually with leaders from the Quad on Friday. This coalition, formed following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, includes three other democratic, Indo-Pacific countries: Japan, India, and Australia.

Transition in Context: Gender Policy Council

On Monday, Biden signed an executive order establishing the White House Gender Policy Council.

A similar group, called the White House Council on Women and Girls, existed during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017. President Donald Trump (R) dissolved the council in his first year in office.

A Biden administration official said the new council’s name reflected that gender discrimination can happen to anyone. The official added, however, that “there will be a focus on women and girls, particularly women and girls of color, given the historical and disproportionate barriers that they face.”

Jennifer Klein and Julissa Reynoso will co-chair the council. Klein is the chief strategy and policy officer at TIME’S UP, and Reynoso is chief of staff to First Lady Jill Biden. 

Transition in Context: Multistate Lawsuits

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) filed the first multistate lawsuit against the Biden administration on Monday. Multistate lawsuits are legal actions involving two or more state attorneys general.

The following chart shows the number of multistate lawsuits filed against each previous administration from 1981 to 2021. During this time period, the Bush I administration saw the fewest lawsuits filed (20). The Trump administration saw the most multistate lawsuits with more than 150.

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.

Seven weeks after their respective inaugurations, Biden had 12 of these secretaries confirmed and Trump and Obama had 13. One of these Obama Cabinet members—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 keeping, reforming, or eliminating the filibuster in the Senate.

  • “The Senate needs to abolish the filibuster. Right now, the Senate has 50 Republican senators. They represent less than 44% of America. And yet they still have the power to stop us from passing laws that a majority of America wants. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and to be honest I started out believing we should keep the filibuster. Without it, I reasoned, what would stop a conservative president and Congress from doing terrible damage to women’s health care, voting rights and civil rights. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the filibuster has long been the enemy of progress. In fact, it’s been a highly effective tool to thwart the will of the people.” – Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.)
  • “Now they’re threatening to blow the place up and turn the Senate into the House, so that they can get their way, with presumably 50 Democrats voting yes and the vice president being in the chair. There is considerable reluctance on the other side to do that because people remember when they were in the minority. And what the Senate filibuster does is one of two things. Either really bad ideas don’t pass at all, or you sit down and reach a bipartisan agreement.” – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
  • “But right now, raising the minimum wage is getting bogged down in the Senate. Why? Because of the filibuster — a procedural loophole that lets an extreme minority of senators block the majority from passing bills that have the broad support of the American people. The filibuster is giving a veto to Mitch McConnell. A veto to the gun industry. A veto to the oil industry. For generations, racist senators took advantage of the filibuster to block anti-lynching laws and civil rights bills. And it’s still blocking progress today.” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
  • “All Americans, whether or not they’re in the majority, deserve to be represented. But it’s particularly important when you consider that our country is pretty evenly split down the middle. While the advantage sometimes goes to Democrats and sometimes to Republicans, the truth is that our country is pretty evenly split. Which means any attempt to disenfranchise the minority party means disenfranchising half the country.” – Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)
  • “[Biden’s] preference is not to end the filibuster. He wants to work with Republicans, to work with independents. He believes that we’re stronger when we build a broad coalition of support.” – Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director

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