The president-elect will face incoming on several fronts, including from Democrats who expect him to nominate the most diverse Cabinet in history. That goal is not always compatible with the push from the party’s vocal left wing to nominate the most progressive Cabinet since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Wall Street and Silicon Valley interests that poured money into Biden’s campaign over the final stretch have a different set of priorities. So do Senate Republicans, at least a handful of whom Biden will need to confirm his nominees, if, as seems likely, the GOP maintains control of the chamber.
Biden can make history by nominating a person of color or a woman to head the Treasury or Defense departments — the only two remaining departments that have only ever had white men lead them.
Michele Flournoy, a former under secretary of Defense for policy, is already the frontrunner to lead the Pentagon. A number of women and people of color are also in the mix for the top job at Treasury, including Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard and TIAA CEO Roger Ferguson.
Biden, who pledged to unite the country during the campaign, will likely try to keep his coalition together by nominating a mix of progressives, moderates and even a few Republicans. He’s also likely to draw in some fresh faces alongside longtime Biden loyalists. “I think one thing Joe Biden has always liked is a variety of viewpoints,” said former Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who served for six years alongside Biden in the Senate. In other words, expect Biden’s own self-styled “Team of Rivals.”
The likelihood that Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell will remain Senate majority leader, however, means that every Biden nominee will need to win at least a few Republican votes. That will limit Biden’s choices and makes it less likely some left-wing choices would be confirmed. House Democrats are also more wary of Biden tapping any of their members from competitive districts, given that their majority just narrowed and they don’t want to risk any upset special elections.
POLITICO has compiled lists of the early contenders for each Cabinet post, but new candidates may emerge. Biden has long been superstitious about making personnel decisions ahead of Election Day, and longtime allies expect some twists and turns as he assembles his team. The following names are based on dozens of conversations with Biden aides, his close allies, lobbyists and Hill staff.