One of the most consequential duties of a newly-elected president is the nomination of cabinet officials. Who the president nominates sets the tone of their new administration and reveals the priorities of the incoming president. Over the past six weeks, President Joe Biden has embraced this role and nominated a series of qualified and competent public servants who will provide a much-needed change from the dysfunction of the past four years. 

Normally, having cabinet officials with experience would not be unusual. However, over the past four years of the Trump administration, we have had a multitude of incompetent and inexperienced cabinet members.

President Donald Trump tended to appoint his close political and financial supporters to cabinet roles despite their severe lack of qualifications. This phenomenon was especially clear with former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos and her family, who hail from western Michigan, are major Republican donors. In 2016, DeVos was tapped by Trump to run the U.S. Department of Education, despite never attending a public school or working in public education. During her tenure as education secretary, DeVos has drawn ire for the rolling back of protections for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses and her fight against student loan forgiveness.

Other cabinet officials were not only unqualified but had actively advocated abolishing the agencies that they were tasked to run, such as former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry who had actually called for the elimination of the Department of Energy. 

Over the four years of the Trump administration, there was a plethora of firings and resignations of cabinet officials. Any cabinet official that disagreed with Trump was immediately in the line of fire. Meanwhile, multiple other cabinet officials resigned due to scandal or abuse of their position. Consequently, during the last administration, there was a near-constant revolving door or cabinet officials in Washington, D.C.

After the disastrous record of the Trump administration’s cabinet picks, Biden had a pretty low bar. As long as he did not pick someone to run an agency they didn’t believe should exist, it would have been an improvement. However, his picks did not just meet expectations, they exceeded them. 

His choices are notable due to the breadth of experience. Secretary of State Tony Blinken is a veteran diplomat with years of foreign policy experience. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III served over 40 years in uniform. Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education nominee, has experience as a public school teacher and administrator. Not only do these selections have extensive experience but they also have a true vision for the agencies they have been selected to run. 

Biden’s nominees are also unique because they represent the diversity of America. There are multiple people of color, such as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for Secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as General Austin, who is the first African American Secretary of Defense. 

There are also multiple female nominees, such as Janet Yellen, who is now the first female Secretary of the Treasury and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm who was chosen for Secretary of Energy. There is also the prospect of the first Senate-confirmed LGBTQ+ cabinet nominee with former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg being nominated for Secretary of Transportation. 

One particularly historic nominee is Congresswoman Deb Haaland, D-N.M., for Secretary of the Interior. Haaland is the first Native American nominated to a cabinet position and as Secretary of the Interior, she would oversee public lands. Her experiences as a Native American woman and her commitment to environmental justice make her an excellent choice for this position. 

For Biden’s cabinet nominees to be confirmed they must receive 51 votes in the Senate. Following the historic Senate runoffs in Georgia, Democrats now have a razor-thin margin in the Senate. Given the history of Republican obstruction of Democratic nominees, Biden’s nominees may face an uphill battle in the Senate.

As a new administration takes on D.C., there is a chance our government will be run by dedicated public servants who will strive to secure a fairer and more equitable future for the American people.

Isabelle Schindler can be reached at ischind@umich.edu.

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