Hi. welcome to On politics, your summary of the week in national politics. I am Lisa Lerer, your host.
register here to get On Politics delivered to your inbox every day of the week.
The holidays always feel like a time of transition: the last eggnog-soaked parties of the year, before resolutions and reboots.
This year, I find myself missing out on those traditions – and who thought you could miss some awkward chatter? – but this feeling of future transformation is everywhere. The first inoculations of a new vaccine, the last gasps of the election and a new administration waiting to take power.
In recent weeks, President-elect Joe Biden and his team have dropped clues about the changes to come, gradually shaping the new government with their cabinet choices. Some of the most important posts, including that of the Attorney General, remain vacant. But we’re starting to get our first real idea of who will help shape American policy for the next several years.
Here’s what we know so far about Mr Biden’s cabinet and what his choices tell us about his approach to governance, political priorities and style of leadership. (Want to know who was selected? We keep a checking account.)
Of course, Mr Biden picked Pete Buttigieg, 38, as his transportation secretary. But don’t let the selection of the former prodigious mayor fool you. Mr. Biden’s cabinet is, well, mature.
In 2009, Mr. Biden, then 66, was the oldest member of President Barack Obama’s first cabinet. More than a decade later, five members of his own proposed cabinet are even older. Janet Yellen, his pick for Treasury secretary, would be the top civil servant at 74 – and still four years younger than Mr Biden.
Only four of the 20 top officials he has chosen so far are under 50: Mr. Buttigieg, Jake Sullivan as National Security Advisor, Katherine Tai as US Trade Representative and Michael Regan as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But age is just a number, right? Yes, unless you are trying to usher in the next era of the Democratic Party. It’s not just Mr Biden’s cabinet that is older, but the entire leadership of his party. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 80; Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, 70; and Mr. Biden will be the longest-serving president in American history when he takes office at 78.
During his campaign, Mr Biden presented himself as a “transition candidate,” a former statesman who would help develop new Democratic talent. But his cabinet doesn’t really look like a bridge between the generations.
They look like an Obama reboot.
Typically, when new Presidents enter the White House, they imbue our national political drama with a new cast of characters.
Many of Mr. Biden’s picks appear to be entering their second or third season.
Most of them served with Mr. Biden during the Obama administration – some even in the same post, like Tom Vilsack, who served as Mr. Obama’s agriculture secretary for eight years. Others got a promotion: Alejandro Mayorkas was deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration and has now been chosen for the top post.
As the pandemic continues to rage, Biden and his team will inherit a country facing extraordinary challenges in the economy, foreign policy and public health. Under these circumstances, the president-elect and his allies have argued that he must choose seasoned Washington technocrats who know how to navigate the bureaucracy.
Of course, the risk of choosing the same old people is that you end up with the same old ideas, rather than defining a new doctrine of governance.
They are diverse.
Mr Biden has pledged to pick the most diverse cabinet in history – and he appears on track to fulfill that pledge. So far at least 10 of his top picks are women and 11 are people of color.
If confirmed, his cabinet members would include, to name a few, the first female Treasury secretary (Ms Yellen), the first openly gay cabinet member approved by the Senate (Mr Buttigieg), the first Latino and the first immigrant to lead the department. of Homeland Security (M. Mayorkas) and the first member of the Amerindian cabinet (Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior).
At the same time, Mr Biden’s pledge sparked fierce fighting within his party. When he chose Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense – potentially the first black to lead the Pentagon – some women in national security were upset that Michèle Flournoy had been ignored. Hispanic lawmakers lobbied for at least two Latinas in crucial roles, and the US Congressional Asia-Pacific caucus also lobbied for greater representation. Civil rights groups, meanwhile, are urging Biden to choose a black attorney general with a proven track record in areas such as criminal justice and the franchise.
The early battles may be a glimpse of what Mr Biden will have to navigate as he attempts to unify a split and diverse party behind his platform.
The presidential transition
Shortly before Mr. Obama became president, he told reporters his intention to create a “team of rivals” – stealing a phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s famously longing for cabinet members who would challenge each other. others.
Mr. Biden appears to be taking the opposite approach. Known for his loyalty, he has placed personal relationships at the heart of his style of government. His chief of staff, Ron Klain, first worked for him more than three decades ago as an assistant to Congress. Antony Blinken, his choice for Secretary of State, has been by his side for almost 20 years.
Mr. Obama chose Hillary Clinton, his biggest Democratic rival, for the post of Secretary of State; Mr Biden has ignored Elizabeth Warren, one of his most formidable opponents, for the post of Secretary of the Treasury.
Instead, he chose Ms. Yellen – the woman Mr. Obama appointed as head of the Federal Reserve in 2013.
Progressives appear to have enough influence to prevent Mr. Biden from choosing people they strongly oppose – see: Emanuel, Rahm – but not enough power to place their allies in the most important positions. With the exception of Ms Haaland, the liberal wing of the party has not raised many of its stars.
In fact, many of Mr. Biden’s choices appear intended to avoid upsetting Republicans, a strategic choice given they could still control the Senate in January. Some Democrats are skeptical of this approach, claiming that Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, will torpedo all of Mr. Biden’s initiatives regardless of who is on his team.
What we can conclude from all of this political maneuvering is perhaps not particularly surprising: Mr. Biden remains a centrist establishment politician. And he is in the process of creating a centrist administration.
Thank you for staying with us through this annus horribilis. Gio and I are taking a little break, and we’ll see you in 2021. We hope for a new year filled with vaccines, good , and far fewer last-minute alerts.
On Monday, the Electoral College voted for Mr Biden, officially affirming the victory of the president-elect. But there may still be one last breath of electoral drama to come.
(The important word is drama. At this point, any effort to change the outcome of the 2020 election is pure political theater.)
The action is now moving through Congress, which will officially count the electoral votes in a joint session held in the chamber on January 6, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. No debate is allowed during the counting of the electoral votes. But there is a process by which members can cast their opposition to a state’s ballots.
Already, at least two members – new Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia and Rep. Mo Brooks from Alabama – are planning to raise formal objections. Their effort is expected to be little more than a symbolic stand. Any objection must be passed by both chambers by simple majority, a highly unlikely outcome given the House’s Democratic control.
Acknowledging the political reality, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky this week launched a campaign to prevent Republicans from joining the doomed effort, hoping to avoid the spectacle of the new Congress being launched by a messy partisan battle.
Perhaps his biggest obstacle? The future President Trump may have other ideas.
Want to know more? Here is our explanation of what happens next.
… That’s the number of Americans who have fallen into poverty since June, according to new data released this week by researchers at the University of Chicago and Notre Dame University.
This is the biggest increase in a single year since the government started tracking poverty numbers six decades ago.
As we tell the New York Times, remember the most needy this holiday season.
Thanks for reading. On Politics is your guide to the cycle of political news, bringing clarity to chaos.
On Politics is also available as a newsletter. register here to have it delivered to your inbox.
Do you think we are missing something? Do you want to see more? We would love to hear from you. Write to us at email@example.com.