WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has worked with the former aide he wants to be secretary of state since their stint on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1990s. His candidate for secretary of state agriculture approved its first presidential candidacy more than 30 years ago. And he has known his choice for the Pentagon chief since the general’s time in retirement in Iraq, where Mr. Biden’s son Beau, a military lawyer, also served on the general’s staff.
Despite all the talk that Mr Biden abides by a complicated formula of ethnicity, gender and experience as he builds his administration – and he is – perhaps the most important criteria for landing a job in cabinet or a high-level position in the White House seem to have a long-standing relationship with the president-elect himself.
His chief of staff, Ron Klain, dates back with him to the days of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, when Mr. Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Mr. Klain was part of his team. John Kerry, his climate envoy, is a former Senate buddy. Even Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who is not a longtime confidante and has campaigned aggressively against Mr. Biden, had a close relationship with Beau Biden before his death – a personal reference that is like gold with the man about to move into the Oval Office.
Accepting Mr. Biden’s nomination to be the first black man to lead the Defense Department, General Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday called Beau a “great American” and recalled the time he spent with him in Iraq and their conversations after he returned home, before his death from a brain tumor in 2015.
“As you can also attest, Madam Vice President-elect, Beau was a very special person and a true patriot, and a good friend to all who knew him,” said General Austin.
It’s a stark contrast to President Trump, who assembled a dysfunctional group of cabinet members he barely knew and after a first honeymoon they constantly spent their time risking being fired. With nearly half of Mr Biden’s cabinet and many key White House jobs announced, his administration is more like a united family.
But there are risks in the approach of Mr Biden, who staunchly departs from Abraham Lincoln’s famed desire for a “team of rivals” in his cabinet that could challenge each other – and the president. . And while each president draws on a coterie of long-time advisers, few have had the nearly five-decade longevity of Mr. Biden in Washington and enjoyed the relationships he developed over the years so much. road.
Relying on advisers and cabinet officials steeped in old Washington – and Mr. Biden’s own worldview – lends an air of insularity to his training again presidency at a time when many Americans are waiting for new ideas to face a world very different from the one the president-elect and his friends learned when they were younger.
Even some Democratic Party allies say they fear Mr Biden’s reliance on the same people threatens to undermine his ability to find solutions to the country’s problems that go beyond the usual ones adopted by the Washington establishment. .
Representative-elect Mondaire Jones of New York, 33, who will serve as the first-year representative to the Democratic House leadership, praised Mr Biden’s picks as “highly competent” but added that “competence alone is insufficient to build back better. . “
“One of the risks Joe Biden only names or names people with whom he has a close relationship is that he risks missing the moment,” he said.
Faiz Shakir, who served as Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager and negotiated with Biden’s team over the summer as part of a unity task force, said the biggest bias that he saw of Biden’s transition team was in favor of “recognition” – both in terms of experience in Washington, often with the president-elect, and education.
He said he feared the team would rely “so much on certification-based technocratic competence that they miss the opportunity to introduce fresh blood and new thinking more closely associated with class struggles. factory Girl”.
And Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Democrat of New York, urged Biden to embrace “a little more competitiveness within” a team that, so far, appear to have the same ideas. Tackling the big problems in the United States in the wake of the pandemic “is going to require a heated debate,” Espaillat said. “It doesn’t have to be a room full of people you love.”
But Mr Biden hasn’t shied away from describing what’s important to him as he builds his team.
“I’ve seen him in action,” Biden said of Antony J. Blinken, his new secretary of state and longtime adviser.
“I’ve worked with her for over a decade,” Biden said of her new director of national intelligence, Avril D. Haines.
“A closest friend of mine,” praised Mr Biden when he announced the former secretary of state’s new climate role.
The presidential transition
And in an article published in The Atlantic on Tuesday, the president-elect explained one of the main reasons he chose General Austin.
“I spent countless hours with him, in the field and in the White House situation room,” Mr. Biden wrote. “I asked for his opinion, saw his command and admired his calm and character.
Those who know Mr Biden say he is confident in his own ability as a judge of character and has relied on part of the same team of advisers for decades. His longtime Senate chief of staff and brief Senate successor Ted Kaufman is helping lead the transition. Among his main new advisers to the White House, his adviser, Steve Ricchetti, and his senior adviser, Mike Donilon, are longtime devotees.
Other aides are taking over the roles they held in Mr Biden’s vice presidential office – only now in the White House itself. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, held the post for Mr Biden, and Jared Bernstein, who was an economic adviser, is now a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.
“He’s got this wonderful team – not rivals, but talented people he’s worked with or watched over the years,” said Joseph Riley, the former mayor of Charleston, SC, and a man Mr. Biden has. once called “the mayor of America”. “
“He’s amassed a collection of talented people that he has watched, listened to, relied on over the years, and this is a quick study,” Mr. Riley said.
Not all of the people named are close friends of Biden. This week, Mr Biden deployed his healthcare team and badly flouted the name of his new Health and Human Services secretary – Xavier Becerra – before correcting himself.
Turning to people close to him for running with long experience in government can be an advantage in confirmation battles in the deeply divided Senate. Many of his picks – like Tom Vilsack, who served eight years as Secretary of Agriculture under President Barack Obama and was re-appointed to the same post – are well known to Republicans.
“I think he has done an outstanding job for eight years and he will do an outstanding job for up to four years,” Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told the press. Mr. Biden’s decision to appoint Mr. Vilsack.
But a more important test for Mr Biden will be his decision on who should be attorney general and lead the Justice Department at a time when racial tensions have rocked the country.
On Tuesday, a group of activists met with Mr. Biden to urge him to appoint a black person who will focus on civil rights and social justice issues. But with an African American now set to lead the Defense Department – ensuring that not all State, Treasury, Justice, and Defense Departments are headed by whites – a number of eminent Democrats believe the president-elect could turn to Senator Doug Jones. from Alabama, who is white.
Mr Jones would most likely be easy to confirm in a tightly divided Senate given his warm relations with Senators from both parties, including Senior Alabama Senator Richard C. Shelby, a Republican.
But Mr. Jones has something else to play in his favor: a long history with Mr. Biden.
As a young law student in Birmingham, Alabama, Mr. Jones was impressed by a visit from a freshman senator from Delaware and introduced himself to Mr. Biden. They grew closer when Mr. Jones moved to Washington to work on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And in 1987, Mr. Jones served as Alabama co-chair during Mr. Biden’s first presidential campaign.
Jonathan martin and Emily cochrane contribution to reports.