President-elect Joe Biden has long-held the promise that he will choose a Cabinet that “looks like America.” With this pledge in mind, Biden is building a diverse administration including Cabinet officials, Cabinet-level officials, and a circle of inner advisors as Inauguration Day, January 20, draws near.
In addition to shattering one of the highest glass ceilings in America by appointing Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, many of the nominees Biden has tapped for top positions in his administration will make history if confirmed by the Senate. Below are some of the people who, if confirmed, will be historic firsts.
SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
As the leader of the U.S. Treasury, the Secretary of the Treasury advises on the financial system and economic policy.
Yellen has been breaking barriers since the beginning of her career. She graduated summa cum laude in economics from Brown University, was the only woman to receive a doctoral degree in economics from Yale University in 1971, and became the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in 2004.
After leading the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, she went on to become the first woman to lead America’s Federal Reserve, the central banking system of the United States. Under her tenure as the 15th Chair of the Federal Reserve, jobs and wages grew while she maintained low-interest rates, something she continues to receive recognition for. “We face great challenges as a country right now. We must restore the American dream—a society where each person can rise to their potential and dream even bigger for their children,” Yellen said on Twitter. “As Treasury Secretary, I will work every day towards rebuilding that dream for all.”
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
First African American
As the leader of the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense advises the president on national defense and works on policies concerning the national security of the country.
Throughout his 41 years in the military, Lloyd Austin has broken many barriers, including being the first African American general to command a U.S. Army Division in combat, serve as Commander of U.S. Central Command, and serve as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. Austin is now a retired U.S. Army four-star general.
One of his crowning achievements while serving in the military was the master plan to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, becoming the Army’s largest logistical effort in over 60 years. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who served with Austin when they were young officers, said “[Austin] is a man of the highest integrity.”
SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
First Native American Cabinet Secretary
As the leader of the Department of the Interior, the Secretary of the Interior oversees public and federal lands and upholds Federal trust responsibility to indigenous tribes.
Deb Haaland understands the struggles many families have after living paycheck to paycheck and relying on food stamps as a single mother. She has spent much of her career advocating for the needs of her community, including those in rural communities, communities of color, and tribal nations.
Haaland was elected to the House of Representatives in 2019 as one of the first two Native American women to serve in Congress. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland will not only be the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, but also the first Native American in a Cabinet role. “A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland said on Twitter. “I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”
SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
As the leader of the Department of Health and Human Services, the department set to play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Secretary of Health and Human Services advises on health policy and works to enhance the health and well-being of Americans.
Xavier Becerra started his career as a legal aid attorney before becoming a Deputy Attorney General in the California Department of Justice. He spent a large portion of his career working to pass the Affordable Care Act and led the defense of the ACA on behalf of the District of Columbia in addition to twenty states. “COVID-19 has made one thing undeniable: We must safeguard the Affordable Care Act — lives depend on it,” Becerra said before the Supreme Court.
Currently, Becerra serves as the 33rd Attorney General of California, the first Latino to ever hold the position, focusing on protecting underserved communities and safeguarding the well-being of all Californians. Being the first Latino to hold the role of Secretary of Health and Human Services is a particularly symbolic nomination at a time when Latinos are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every day in the Biden-Harris Administration,” Becerra said on Twitter, “we will make it a priority to get health care to the communities who need it most.”
SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION
First Openly Gay Cabinet Secretary
As the leader of the Department of Transportation, the Secretary of Transportation advises on transportation policy to provide an economical and efficient nation-wide transportation system.
Before becoming a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Pete Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend, Ind. from 2012 to 2020. During his time as the mayor, he revitalized South Bend by spurring local investment, creating thousands of jobs, and improving transportation. In addition to serving as mayor, Buttigieg was also an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve where he eventually earned the rank of Lieutenant. In 2014, he was deployed to Afghanistan.
After withdrawing from the 2020 Democratic primaries in March where he often spoke about the improvement of our future economy, Buttigieg endorsed Biden in a swift turn of events. If confirmed by the Senate, Buttigieg would not only be the first LGBTQ+ Secretary of Transportation but would also make history as the first openly gay person to lead a Cabinet department. In a statement, Biden called Buttigieg a “policy wonk with a big heart” and later in a separate statement, said Buttigieg would lead with “focus, decency and a bold vision. He will bring people together to get big things done.”
SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
As the leader of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Homeland Security advises the president on security issues present within America and works to secure the nation from the many threats it faces.
Alejandro Mayorkas has spent much of his life as a nationally-recognized lawyer in the private sector and a law enforcement official, becoming the youngest United States Attorney in the nation in 1998. While serving as the director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, he played an integral role in the implementation of DACA. This program, which President Trump repeatedly tried to end, provides protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children. He also created the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate to safeguard the integrity of the legal immigration system.
In recent years, the DHS has been dragged into politics under Trump, being accused of bending to Trump’s political wishes of separating families at the border, building a wall with money from the Department of Defense and more. If approved by the Senate, Mayorkas said on Twitter that he will “work to restore faith in our institutions, and protect our security here at home.”
DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
As the leader of the U.S. Intelligence Committee, the Director of National Intelligence acts as the principal advisor to the President, National Security Council and Homeland Security Council for matters relating to national security.
Avril Haines was the first woman to serve as the White House Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Director of the CIA. While serving under President Barack Obama she worked on the National Security Council and often found herself working closely with Mr. Biden in various roles for over a decade. “Brilliant, humble,” Biden said when introducing Haines. “[She] can talk literature and theoretical physics, fixing cars, flying planes, running a bookstore-cafe, all in a single conversation, because she’s done all that.”
DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
First South Asian American
First Woman of Color
As the leader of the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of the OMB acts as the principal defense policymaker and advisor, playing a role in policies that affect every part of the economy.
Neera Tanden has dedicated her career to pursuing policies that foster general economic growth, lessen inequalities, and support working families. As a child, her reliance on food stamps and Section 8 housing “instilled in her the true necessity of an economy that serves the dignity and humanity of all people,” reads her bio on the Biden-Harris Transition website.
While Tanden served on multiple presidential campaigns as well as both the Obama and Clinton administrations, she is perhaps one of Mr. Biden’s most controversial picks. She has sparked much outrage due to her social media bullying and past Republican-like actions and ideas. However, these various controversies have not stopped Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris from praising her publicly. “Like me, [Tanden] was raised by a single mother and knows firsthand the importance of having an economy that treats all people with dignity and respect,” Ms. Harris said on Twitter. “I know with her at the helm of the Office of Management and Budget, our budget will fully reflect our values.”
CHAIR OF THE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS
First African American Woman
First Woman of Color
As the leader of the Council of Economic Advisors, the Chair of the CEA advises the president on both domestic and international economic policy.
A renowned labor economist, Cecilia Rouse was part of the National Economic Council during the Clinton-Gore administration and was a member of the CEA during the Obama-Biden administration. Currently, she serves as the Dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
While accepting Mr. Biden’s nomination, Rouse said her focus would be on the future of labor and workers during her time in office, focusing short-term on pandemic-related issues and longer-term on economic shifts toward a gig economy. She has spent much of the pandemic advocating for workers facing potential long-term unemployment issues. While she called COVID-19 a “devastating crisis,” she said that it also presents “an opportunity to build a better economy in its wake — an economy that works for everyone, brings fulfilling job opportunities, and leaves no one to fall through the cracks.”
WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL SECRETARY
First Hispanic American
The White House Social Secretary works with the first lady to plan, arrange, coordinate, and direct all social events hosted by the president and their family.
Carlos Elizondo was a Special Assistant to the President and Social Secretary to Mr. Biden for all eight years of the Obama-Biden administration, the first Hispanic American to hold the position. In this role, he was in charge of the planning, managing, and execution of all events hosted by Mr. Biden and his family, including visits from Congressional members, world leaders, and other high-profile visitors.
In addition to being the first Hispanic American to hold the role of White House Social Secretary, Elizondo was also the first openly LGBTQ+ senior staff member named to the Biden-Harris administration. In a statement, Biden said that bringing individuals like Elizondo into his administration would “help deliver the change America needs in these difficult times.”
Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo
DEPUTY SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
First African American
The Deputy Secretary of the Treasury works directly with the Secretary of Treasury, advising and assisting with the financial system and economic policy.
Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo emigrated from Nigeria to the US when he was a baby. He has strong roots growing up in California, a state that was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, and now as a public servant of the US, works to reduce inequalities in the United States and improve middle-class lives.
Adeyemo served in the Obama-Biden administration as the Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Director of the National Economic Policy. He is now the president of the Obama Foundation. Adeyemo also served as the Deputy Chief of Staff at the Treasury, where he worked on the enforcement of foreign exchange policy and making sure all policies were transparent. “Public service is about offering hope through the dark times and making sure that our economy works not just for the wealthy, but for the hard-working people who make it run,” Adeyemo said on Twitter. “As Deputy Treasury Secretary, I look forward to helping us build back our economy better.”