Biden’s Cabinet Contenders: Who’s Who and the Roles They’ll Play

November 25, 2020

By Robert Yeakel, NGA Director of Government Relations

Congress headed home over the weekend for the Thanksgiving recess, but inside the beltway the biggest game in town is speculation surrounding Joe Biden’s presumptive cabinet picks. From ex-Obama officials to public policy professionals and even some Democratic primary foes, everyone is anxious to see who Biden chooses for each role. Formally, the President-elect cannot nominate anyone until he takes office in January, but cabinet-level decisions generally prove to be strong signals as to what the incoming administration has planned for the various federal departments and agencies. Adding a wrinkle to this process, the President-elect and his transition team are well aware of the likelihood that whoever Biden taps for the top spots will have to be confirmed by a Republican Senate. Looking to “strike a middle ground,” Biden is expected to lean heavily on careerist individuals whose credentials and ability to muster bipartisan support in Congress will ensure swift confirmations and allow the Biden administration to hit the ground running from day one.

On Monday, the General Services Administration (GSA) formally acknowledged that Joe Biden is now the President-elect. This procedural requirement allows the Biden transition team to access federal resources and to begin liaising with agencies in an official capacity. The move follows the official certification of Biden’s victory in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada. Both before and since the announcement, Biden has begun to publicize who he will be nominating for key departments and agencies. Let’s run down who has been tapped, what they bring to their cabinet role, and any impacts their nominations-to-come will have on the independent grocery industry.

Who We Know

Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen

President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen to become the next Treasury secretary, according to people familiar with the decision. Yellen would be the first woman to helm the Treasury Department and was nearly nominated for a second term as Fed Chairwoman by Trump after her 2014-2018 stint leading the central bank. Confirmed twice previously, both in a bipartisan fashion, Yellen will likely assume the role with her top goal of getting the economy through a COVID-induced slump. She will also play a role in COVID-19 aid negotiations, to which she has been an outspoken proponent of additional fiscal stimulus.

DHS Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas

On Monday, Biden announced a slate of national security candidates to be nominated to various roles. Alejandro Mayorkas, if confirmed, would become the first Latino Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary. He served as DHS deputy secretary during the Obama administration and also headed up the implementation of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). No Republicans voted to confirm Mayorkas as deputy secretary in 2013, which could hurt his chances if Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

Secretary of State, Antony Blinken

Antony Blinken was on the short list for the role as foreign policy advisor for the Biden campaign. No stranger to Washington, Blinken has held senior foreign policy positions in two administrations over three decades. From 2015 to 2017, Blinken served as Deputy Secretary of State, and before served as Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama. An uncontroversial pick, many had though the presumptive nominee might be former National Security Advisor and U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice. But her close ties to political fights during the later years of the Obama administration would likely doom her chances at confirmation with a Republican Senate.

Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines

During the Obama administration, Haines served as Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy National Security Advisor from 2015-2017. From 2013-2015, Haines was the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; she was the first woman to hold both of these positions. Avril began her service in the Obama administration in 2010 as the National Security Council Legal Advisor.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Retired Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat, is returning to public service after retiring from a 35-year career with the U.S. Foreign Service in 2017. From 2013 to 2017 she served as the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs. Prior to this appointment, she served as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources and her career also includes an ambassadorship to Liberia and postings in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica.

National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan

A current senior policy advisor to Biden, Sullivan formerly served as Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor under President Obama. He previously served as Director of the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State and as Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

To Be Announced

Here are some of the other cabinet-level positions and the individuals who could be tapped to join the Biden administration.

Agriculture Secretary

Top nominee for Agriculture Secretary is Heidi Heitkamp, a strong ally of independent grocery and a friend of NGA, the former Senator from North Dakota would be instrumental in our work on SNAP online purchasing and other nutrition priorities such as produce incentives. Heitkamp also has strong moderate credentials and has in the past broken from her party on controversial policy issues.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, meanwhile, have been pushing Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to take the top job at the Agriculture Department. Fudge, the top candidate among progressives, chairs a House Agriculture subcommittee on nutrition and has made increasing benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program a primary issue. She has also been fiercely critical of the nutrition rollbacks at USDA.

Attorney General

Doug Jones, the current Democratic Senator from Alabama, lost his reelection but is poised to possibly takeover as Biden’s Attorney General. NGA has worked closely with the Senator in the past and would likely have an ally atop the Department of Justice in our work on antitrust and anticompetitive issues come next year.

Labor Secretary

Biden is widely expected to choose a more progressive candidate to lead the Labor Department, one that would help balance out more moderate nominees he’s expected to place at other agencies. Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI-09), a former union organizer who also has Labor Department experience, is high on the list of potential nominees, as is California Labor Secretary Julie Su. Other possibilities for Biden’s Labor secretary include DNC Chairman and former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez, AFL-CIO Chief Economist Bill Spriggs and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is reportedly interested in the position.

HHS Secretary

On the short list to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services is New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who ran the state’s health agency before serving in the House of Representatives. Currently a co-chair of Biden’s transition team, she also commissioned a study on implementing a public health insurance option at the state level – which aligns with Biden’s push for creating one at the federal level. In her time as a member of Congress, Grisham supported legislative efforts that advocated for lower prescription drug costs for Medicare patients and drug pricing reforms to help pharmacies.