President Joe Biden has been in office for almost four weeks, and Congress is swearing in his Cabinet picks.
Including Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden’s Cabinet is made up of 15 departments. Cabinet members act as advisers to the president, helping him make decisions on national and international policy.
Once the president picks someone to be in his Cabinet, he sends a formal nomination to the Senate, where the nominee is voted on. If the Senate approves, the nominee is sworn into office.
Each member runs their respective department and agency, dictating how those departments work on behalf of the American people. Many of the decisions they make and the advice they give affect national and local policy, impacting the American public from top to bottom.
Political science professors at the University of Georgia weighed in on Biden’s Cabinet picks.
A group of “firsts”
Among the Cabinet picks that have been confirmed, Janet Yellen is the first woman to lead the U.S. Treasury Department, Lloyd Austin is the first African American secretary of defense and Pete Buttigieg as secretary of transportation is the first openly gay man confirmed to the Cabinet.
UGA political science professors Audrey Haynes and Michael Lynch were surprised at Buttigieg’s nominaton as secretary of transportation.
“I was happy to see Mayor Pete get an opportunity to lead and to manage a department,” Haynes said. “He seemed to be one of the voices that was relatively young and captured a group that had not heretofore been highly visible in government.”
However, Lynch said Buttigieg isn’t as much of an expert in his position as some of Biden’s other Cabinet picks.
“He’s someone, when compared to all the other people who seem to have clear expertise in the field they’re in, he’s maybe a little bit different in that regard,” Lynch said.
If confirmed, Deb Haaland and Xavier Becerra will also be “firsts.” Haaland as secretary of the interior, would be the first Native American to lead the agency and Becerra as secretary of health and human services would be the first Latino in this position.
“It’s clearly obvious that [Biden] wants his Cabinet to reflect the diversity that is America,” Haynes said.
Focusing on experience
When making his Cabinet picks, Biden nominated many who had served in the Obama administration, including Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security, Denis McDonough as secretary of veteran affairs and Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture. Blinken, Mayorkas and McDonough have been confirmed.
Haynes said the Cabinet is more experienced because of this — Biden’s picks are not political outsiders. Political science professor Jamie Carson agreed that Biden’s Cabinet was highly qualified because of prior experience, and Lynch said that Biden seemed to be “prioritizing experience.”
Lynch said Biden’s focus on experience “may be a signal that Biden is planning on relying on these people and the agencies and have them give him more advice and counsel.”
Once all of Biden’s Cabinet members are sworn in, Professors Haynes and Carson expect Biden to interact with them in one of two ways.
Carson said Biden may depend on his Cabinet for advice more than previous presidents have.
“Presidents vary in how much they rely on their Cabinet from one administration to the next, but given the numerous problems facing the nation, such as the pandemic, racial injustice, partisan polarization, and economic instability, he may rely a bit more on his Cabinet early on for advice on how best to tackle these serious issues moving forward,” Carson said.
Haynes said Cabinet members could act as problem solvers for Biden.
“It may be that he doesn't use [the Cabinet] for advice but lets them innovate in their policy areas … He may need to pull talent together to solve real challenges,” Haynes said.
When it comes to the most important issues the Cabinet will guide Biden through, there was a consensus among the professors: COVID-19 and the economy.
“COVID and the battle to vaccinate the country effectively and quickly before things get worse — that is the number one goal,” Haynes said.
Congress continues to work through the Cabinet nominations.