The Corner

Politics & Policy

Is Biden Just Picking His Cabinet Nominees at Random?

President-elect Joe Biden concludes his remarks to reporters following an online meeting with members of the National Governors Association executive committee in Wilmington, Del., November 19, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

You don’t have to be a Joe Biden critic or foe to look at his latest batch of cabinet nominations and wonder if he’s picking names out of a hat. As noted, California attorney general Xavier Becerra has little experience in health-care policy, but is Biden’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services. Former national-security adviser Susan Rice, who has spent her career in foreign policy, will be in charge of Biden’s domestic policy. We’ve discussed the inherent headaches of Lloyd Austin’s nomination to be secretary of defense. And Pete Buttigieg, who has no particular connection or experience with China, may be named U.S. ambassador to China.

It gets even weirder. Biden’s pick for secretary of veterans affairs, former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough, is not a veteran and has no experience focused specifically on veterans issues. Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, who wanted to be secretary of agriculture and specifically said she didn’t want to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development . . . was picked to run HUD.

Tom Vilsack, who was secretary of agriculture for all eight years of Obama’s presidency, is apparently going back to the same job. Ernest Moniz is reportedly under consideration to be secretary of energy again. Much like Jake Blues, Biden is getting the band back together.

David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Eric Levitz of New York magazine, Matt Ford of The New Republic, and Jim Newell of Slate have all written variations of “these might be fine folks, but they don’t really make sense for the jobs Biden is giving them” columns, and NBC’s Chuck Todd thinks Biden is making the picks to placate “certain constituencies.”

Maybe a good cabinet secretary doesn’t need a deep background in the policies they’ll be administrating; maybe good managerial skills matter more. Considering how some cabinet jobs are like the witness-protection program, a nominee’s relationship with Biden may be more important in terms of getting things done. And it’s always possible that one or more of these nominees won’t get confirmed by the Senate.

But the odd and seemingly mismatched selections may reflect what we can expect from a Biden presidency. Joe Biden likes and trusts “his people,” and has faith in them — and apparently doesn’t really care if they’re experienced in a particular policy area or not. Maybe this will work out fine for his administration. But if it doesn’t, perhaps this is what the country gets when it elects a very old Washington insider who is very set in his ways.


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