Ballotpedia’s Weekly Transition Tracker: March 20-26, 2021

Every week, Ballotpedia is tracking key presidential appointments, executive actions, and policy developments from the Biden administration.

  • The Senate confirmed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as secretary of labor on Monday by a vote of 68-29. All 29 votes against his nomination came from Republicans. Kim Janey, a member of the Boston City Council, became the acting mayor of Boston.
  • The Senate confirmed Shalanda Young as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday by a vote of 63-37.
  • The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a confirmation hearing for Samantha Power for administrator of the United States Agency for International Development on Tuesday.
  • The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a meeting on Wednesday to consider the nominations of Brenda Mallory to be a member of the Council on Environmental Quality and Janet McCabe to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is holding a confirmation hearing for Deanne Criswell to be the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Executive Actions

  • Biden issued a proclamation on Tuesday to honor the victims of the March 22 Boulder mass shooting. Biden also called on Congress to “ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again.”

Other News

  • Biden nominated Lina Khan, an associated professor at Columbia Law School focused on antitrust law, to lead the Federal Trade Commission on Monday. 
  • Biden is expected to appoint Jeffrey Feltman, a former senior United Nations official, as the special envoy for the Horn of Africa. The newly created position would focus on the armed conflict in Ethiopia.
  • The Biden administration named career foreign service officer Ricardo Zúñiga as the special envoy for the Northern Triangle countries: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The State Department said, “He also will hold our partners accountable for their commitments to address root causes of migration and the increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children at the U.S. southern border.” 
  • The Washington Post reported that Asian American advocacy groups have coalesced around Nani Coloretti as a potential nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Shalanda Young, the newly confirmed deputy director of the OMB, is considered the frontrunner for the position. Ann O’Leary withdrew from consideration on Monday.
  • The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it was extending the special enrollment period deadline for the federal health insurance marketplace from May 15 to August 15.
  • Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said on Tuesday they would withhold support for any future Biden nominees until Biden had more Asian American representation in his administration. They reversed this position after the White House announced it was adding a senior-level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison.
  • Thirteen states, led by Louisiana, filed a lawsuit against Biden on Wednesday challenging a Jan. 27 executive order, which paused new oil and natural gas leases on public lands. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) called it an abuse of presidential power. Wyoming separately filed a lawsuit on the same issue on Wednesday.
  • Biden announced on Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris (D) would oversee the White House’s efforts to address an increase in migrants at the southern border on Wednesday. Her assignment includes working with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries on the root issues of migration.
  • Biden participated in a European Council meeting virtually on Thursday, marking the first time a president has addressed an EU summit since 2009.
  • Biden held his first news conference on Thursday, where he discussed voting rights legislation, economic recovery, immigration and the filibuster. He said he intended to run for reelection in 2024 with Harris. He also doubled his vaccination goal from 100 million to 200 million doses administered in his first 100 days in office.
  • Biden is expected to announce the details of his infrastructure bill in Pittsburgh on Mar. 31. Reuters reported the bill could cost up to $4 trillion. 

Transition in Context: Executive Orders

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

Biden issued more executive orders during this time period than his three predecessors. He issued 32 executive orders in his first month and five in his second.

President Donald Trump (R) issued the most executive orders per year on average: 55.

Transition in Context: What are special envoys?

Special envoys are agents appointed as the personal representative of the president or the secretary of state. They are often appointed in response to congressional or public attention to a particular region or issue.

President George Washington made the first such temporary diplomatic appointment in 1789, naming a private agent focused on normalizing diplomatic relations with Britain.

Special envoys can operate outside of the typical reach of an ambassador to address complex, multilateral issues. Critics of special envoys say they undercut the State Department.

Since they are responsive to the needs of each administration, there is no set number of special envoys. Biden, for example, created a new position when he appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as the special presidential envoy for climate.

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.

Nine weeks after their respective inaugurations, Biden had all 15 of these secretaries confirmed. Obama had 14. One of these Obama Cabinet members—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—was held over from the Bush administration.

Trump had 13 confirmed. His secretaries of agriculture and labor had not yet been confirmed.

Transition in Context

Here’s what Democratic and Republican leaders have said about gun ownership laws.

  • “I’m not trying to perfectly equate these two, but we have a lot of drunk drivers in America that kill a lot of people. We ought to combat that too. But I think what a lot of people on my side are saying is we ought not to get rid of all the sober drivers.” – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)
  • “If a measure [extending background checks] that has 90 percent to 95 percent public support can’t pass the Senate just because of our rules — not because it doesn’t get the majority of support in the Senate — then something’s really wrong here. Democracy dies when things that have the majority of support in Congress, the support of the president and 90 percent public support can’t become a law.” – Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)
  • “Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater, where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders. … When you disarm law-abiding citizens, you make them more likely to be victims.” – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
  • “Compromise is hard when Republican colleagues give speeches about how all these proposals are just trying to take away guns, seize your firearm from law-abiding citizens, which in fact, none of these proposals would do. So it sort of indicates that we have to overcome a gap that is created by the personal or political divide, not substantive disagreement.” – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

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