The presidential transition leads to many stories beyond Beltway – an endless stream of leaks and controversies that are mainly for some of the most ambitious people in the world struggling for work. Oh, but the transition itself is still an important story.
Who completes the government matters, and is even more important when the nation is in its ninth month to fight a pandemic. And sometimes the results of all this joking are decisive. Imagine how the story could have unfolded if President Barack Obama had not elected Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state – or if President Trump had chose Mitt Romney, whom he courted but eventually rejected for his role as a top diplomat and who four years later became the only GOP senator to support Trump̵
Some seats are already filled, with Biden appointing a senior team of White House advisers, including his longtime aide, Ron Klein, as chief of staff, his campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dylan, as deputy chief of staff, and Cedric Richmond, a representative. from prominent Biden supporters during the campaign, as a senior adviser.
But there are many jobs that still need to be filled (about 4,000). So, here’s FiveThirtyEight’s guide to the transition process:
Many of the rumors about who will get what job will not be true – and sometimes this misdirection is intentional. The transition process is an ideal opportunity for:
- Reporters who flatter sources by suggesting that these sources be considered for more important jobs.
- Biden’s team to swim someone’s name to flatter him.
- A person who wants to be considered a key job to sail his own name.
- Other constituencies in the Democratic Party to push their preferred choice.
Many of the stories about who will get different jobs in the administration are full of unnamed sources. And these stories often say that Biden is “considering” someone, but we have no idea how serious that consideration is.
For example, Senator Elizabeth Warren is unlikely to be elected secretary of Biden’s Treasury Department, even though she wants the job, according to at least “three Democratic officials who have spoken to her inner circle,” according to Politico. But Warren probably knows why he’s unlikely to get the appointment: The party’s centrist wing doesn’t want her to lead the department, and Republicans can block her during the confirmation process. Instead, her public candidacy may indeed be an attempt to make sure that Biden chooses someone quite liberal to lead the department – or at least someone who is not too centrist.
Remember that the president will be the main decision-maker in the administration – so don’t focus too a lot about who gets another senior job. There is a certain logic to the idea that if Biden hires a person whose views are similar to Warren’s, he will apply a lot of liberal policies to that job, and a less liberal person will apply more moderate policies. But that’s not really the way the presidential administration usually works.
On any really big political issue (like who to be nominated for a vacancy in the Supreme Court), Biden is likely to make the final decision. Cabinet secretaries or lower-level agency officials can draw up a policy, but only if it is in line with what the president already thinks or if it is not a big issue for him to consider. In addition, the best White House aides can delay the agencies’ moves if they do not agree with them, which again means that the president is the one who makes the final invitation. And, of course, if the cabinet secretary, White House aide, or other politically appointed person disagrees too often with the president, he or she will be fired.
The Trump administration has shown why we should not invest too much in the team of advisers who initially elect a president. In his 2016 campaign, Trump took a non-standard position for the Republican presidential candidate – he seemed wary of keeping US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, was skeptical of NATO and eager to ease tensions between the United States and Russia. But during his presidency, Trump put a bunch of people with a bigger GP view in key national security roles, most notably James Mathis as defense minister. Trump, of course, ended the feud with this early set of advisers and eventually replaced them with people who adhered to his vision.
But keep a close eye on those appointed, especially those who work under a chief of staff and cabinet secretaries. Of course, even when the president made the final invitation, White House officials and political appointments to the agencies I can they make a big difference, especially if they are working on a problem that will not appear on the front page or on the front page of The New York Times every day.
The best example of this is Trump’s domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller, who has led a number of changes that make immigration difficult in the United States. Trump, of course, agrees with Miller’s overall goals, but it’s not clear that he would have implemented all of these policies if Miller hadn’t been in the administration.
In Biden’s team, Richmond could use his role as director of the White House’s territorial division to become the de facto face of the black administration, which may be both a large portfolio but not so high that Biden will step in to make all the big decisions.
Appointments can signal the president’s inclination. Take another progressive Democrat whose name has been announced as a cabinet: Senator Bernie Sanders as Biden’s labor minister. If Biden elects Sanders, it could be a signal that the former vice president will allow the Vermont senator to freely pursue democratic socialist policies through that department. But I don’t think that’s how we should think about such a meeting. Rather, it would probably be a signal that Biden plans to take a rather liberal position on labor issues anyway, so it feels comfortable to have a leftist figure like Sanders to run this program.
For example, in the 2008 transition process, Obama’s selection of Wall Street-friendly people like Tim Geithner (as Treasury Secretary) and Larry Summers (as chief economic adviser to the White House) foretold that the administration would not be as populist as it was some liberals wanted.
Appointments can also be used to appease various blocs in the party rather than politics. The incoming president, who has just won an election, usually tries to reward the people and groups who helped him get there. This constituency dynamics partly explains who is advertised by the media as a potential Biden recruit: a former Ohio. Gov. John Kasic and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (Republicans v. Trump); Warren and Sanders (progressive); former Deputy Defense Minister Michelle Flornoy and former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen (women); Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and California Attorney General Xavier Betzera (Latinos).
But an appointee who is elected mainly for political reasons may not be much influenced in his role. Let’s reconsider the idea of Sanders becoming Biden’s secretary of labor. Biden may not want to pursue liberal policies through the Department of Labor, but he would still choose Sanders to reassure progressives during the transition and then ignore the senator’s ideas once he’s at work.
A good example of this dynamic in a previous administration was the election of then-South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations at the beginning of his first term. Hailey had little foreign policy experience in the role – and it was not clear that she had a major influence on Trump’s agenda during almost two years in the administration. But Hailey’s choice was an important nod to the colored voters (she is an Native American), women, and Republicans from the state (at that point, she was aligned with this wing of the GOP).
Expect Biden to choose people who do not consider themselves truly liberal or truly centrist. Biden has always tried to be at the center of the Democratic Party – so his administration is likely to reflect that approach. Take his choice of Klein as his chief of staff. Yes, Klein was a top adviser to more center-left Democrats like Biden, Clinton and Obama, but more left-wing figures like Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes also liked him. So expect Biden to take more pictures like Klain and not many pictures like Warren as secretary of the treasury. Former Chicago Mayor Ram Emanuel may get a rather low job as secretary of transport, but there is probably too much opposition from the party’s left for Biden to put him in a more prominent role.
Furthermore, since Biden is likely to hire his administration with people who unite rather than divide the party, I doubt there will be factions in the Biden administration that are fighting intensely with each other, as high-ranking aides did in the early stages of the administration. of Trump.
The biggest unknown may be how Biden treats the Senate. Biden is unlikely to wait until the January 5 runoff in Georgia to nominate his candidacy for cabinet and other senior positions in federal agencies that require Senate confirmation. Waiting so long would mean that these elections will probably not be ready to start soon after Biden takes office on January 20th.
So the incoming president has three choices: First, he can choose who he deems suitable for a job and dare the Republicans to block that person if the GOP has a majority after the races in Georgia. Second, he may try to select nominees who he says Senator Mitch McConnell will allow to vote (if McConnell remains the majority leader) and who can get the support of at least two Republican senators. (The GOP will have a maximum of 52 votes, so splitting 50-50 would allow Vice President Kamala Harris to cast a vote.) But there is a third option: Biden can use federal laws and procedures to make people who he wants to be “acting” secretaries without confirmation from the Senate, as Trump did.
How many Republicans would try to block Biden’s election is a wild card; during the Obama and Trump transitions, the president’s party controlled the Senate, so we haven’t seen a recently opposition-controlled Senate vote for the new president. It will be interesting to see if Biden avoids nominating people for jobs that require Senate confirmation if those candidates are considered too liberal (like perhaps Sanders and Warren) or have a frosty relationship with the GOP (say, the former councilor). on National Security Susan Rice, which some Republicans dislike about her days in the Obama administration). Also, with such narrow seats in the Senate, Biden may be wary of nominating Senate members from states where a Republican governor may appoint their deputy (Warren) or where Democrats may have difficulty retaining a seat in special elections (Amy from Minnesota Klobuchar).
Of course, it is possible that this presidential transition will not follow these general parameters. With COVID-19, a president who will not back down or participate in the transition, the GOP, which increasingly wants to break with democratic norms and values and the control of the Senate, still hanging by a thread due to the runoff in Georgia, has many unknowns.
But in the end, I suspect that Biden will make his transition in a rather traditional way. After all, Biden is deeply aware of the way things were done in Washington, and, as we saw during the campaign, part of the reason he ran in the first place is that he wants to restore some of that normalcy.