The Cabinet has been made up of the trusted advisors of the President of the United States since our nation’s founding in the late 1700s. Back then, George Washington only had four Cabinet members, a large departure from the 14 department secretaries in the Cabinet now. Accompanied by other Cabinet-level positions like the White House Chief of Staff and U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, this group can make or break a presidency. When a president is elected for the first time, they are able to appoint each member of the Cabinet. However, this is not the end-all, be-all of the process. In order for a president’s pick to have a position in the Cabinet, The U.S. Senate must first vote to confirm them. This makes Cabinet appointments extremely strategic and emphasizes the importance of the leading party in the Senate.
When President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, he was tasked with replacing the Cabinet of former president Barack Obama. Coming in after the first African-American U.S president, whose Cabinet was one of the most diverse that we’ve seen in recent years, Trump had big shoes to fill. Fill them he did not. According to the New York Times, President Trump built the least diverse Cabinet since President Jimmy Carter back in 1977. Of the twenty-four Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions, six were held by people of color/women.
The recent confirmation of Joe Biden as our nation’s next president by the Electoral College has made his choices for the Cabinet a trending topic for some time now. After a strife-filled election, it seems Biden has his work cut out for him in this critical element of his presidency.
With picks like Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture, a role he filled during the Obama administration, it appears as if Biden is going back to something tried and true. However, this decision is facing backlash, as Vislack and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) have a history of discriminating against women and farmers of color. In a Politico interview, Michael Stovall, the founder of Independent Black Farmers, had this to say about Vislack: “When it comes to civil rights, the rights of people, [Vislack’s] not for that. It’s very disappointing they even want to consider him coming back after what he has done to limited resource farmers and what he continues to do to destroy lives.”
A part of the outrage following the nomination of Vislack is the prospect of Congresswoman Marcia Fudge leading the department of Agriculture. Fudge, who is Biden’s pick for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is a member of the Agriculture Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. A month before her nomination, Fudge went on record with Politico lamenting the tendency of Presidents to stick people of color in the HUD, saying “As this country becomes more and more diverse, we’re going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in. You know, it’s always ‘we want to put the Black person in labor or HUD.” Many are confident in her ability to lead Housing and Urban Development but with her track record next to Vislack’s, Fudge could be a groundbreaking pick as the first black woman to lead the Department of Agriculture .
But on the topic of breaking the glass ceiling within higher-level government, Biden has certainly not shied away. For example, Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s former opponent in the Democratic primaries and pick for Secretary of Transportation, would be the first openly gay person to be confirmed to the Cabinet by the Senate. This historic (albeit questionable due to Buttigieg’s lack of experience) decision will be a step in the right direction for LGBTQ+ representation in the executive branch of the government.
The last key appointment Biden’s made is the appointment of Deb Haaland to be Head of the Department of the Interior. If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American person to serve as a Secretary in the Cabinet, and her position will make her a key part of Biden’s climate initiative, where she’ll work closely with Biden’s pick for Department of Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm as well as Gina McCarthy, appointed to the new position of Climate Czar.
In the coming days, Biden’s picks for his Cabinet will be finalized. His inauguration is scheduled for January 20, 2021.