Biden surrounding himself with familiar Obama-era faces

The president-elect introduced more members of his team, many of whom worked for the last Democratic president.

President-elect Joe Biden announces his choice for several positions in his administration during an event at The Queen theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, December 11, 2020 [Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

President-elect Joe Biden introduced five top picks for his upcoming administration on Friday, drawing on leading names from the Obama White House while also tapping an Ohio congresswoman and a congressional committee veteran.

“Vice President-elect Harris and I knew we had our work cut out for us when we got elected,” Biden said during an announcement event in Wilmington, Delaware. “We knew we could build a team that could meet this unique and challenging moment in American history.”

Appearing at the afternoon event were Biden’s choice for director of White House Domestic Policy Council, Susan Rice, who served as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and UN ambassador; and Denis McDonough, Obama’s White House chief of staff, now nominated as veterans affairs secretary.

Also attending were Biden’s selection for agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, who held the same post for Obama; Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge, chosen to be the new administration’s housing chief; and Katherine Tai, who is chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee and has been tapped as the US trade representative.

Obama was first elected on promises to move beyond partisan politics, but saw some significant policy goals crash into an uncooperative Congress, especially after Republican gains in the 2010 midterms.

Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, view the Obama era with frustration, believing that those in power acted too cautiously at a time that called for bold change.

Biden addressed the concerns about his reliance on former Obama hands, arguing their experience is needed right now.

“Some of them are familiar faces, some are new in their roles. All are facing new circumstances and challenges. That’s a good thing,” Biden said.

“They bring deep experience and bold new thinking. Above all, they know how government should and can work for all Americans.”

After Biden announced several white men to his team early on, progressives began pressing him to focus in particular on the diversity of his cabinet.

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, questioned earlier this week “the overall message” that Biden is aiming to send with his cabinet picks. And the left-leaning climate group Sunrise Movement on Thursday called the pick of Vilsack for agriculture secretary over Fudge, who was looking to become the agency’s first Black secretary and will be in Biden’s cabinet as housing secretary, as a “slap in the face to Black Americans”.

Mark Riddle, a Democratic strategist who founded a pro-Biden Super PAC during the 2020 presidential campaign, told The Associated Press news agency there is no danger in relying too heavily on “all star” former Obama administration leaders. But he advised Biden’s team to prioritise controlling the coronavirus pandemic enough to spur economic growth, rather than having arguments over social policies that might allow congressional Republicans to more easily block sweeping policy initiatives.

“The success or failure of the administration out of the box is going to be, Do they focus on jobs,” Riddle said. “If we come out of the box on jobs, jobs, jobs, I feel great. If we are about a bunch of other, say, progressive ideals, we could be right back where we were.”

Rice, who was once thought to be a finalist to become Biden’s running mate before Biden settled on Kamala Harris, is set to have wide-ranging sway over the incoming administration’s approach to immigration, healthcare and racial inequality. She worked closely with Biden when he was Obama’s vice president and would not require Senate confirmation — which could have faced stiff Republican opposition.

Susan Rice, left, and Denis McDonough, right, had high-profile roles under President Barack Obama and will have high-profile jobs in Joe Biden’s administration [Mike Segar/Reuters]

McDonough has been tasked with running a large agency that has presented organisational challenges for both parties over the years. Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, is expected to direct agriculture policy with an eye towards key farming states, similar to what he did for Obama.

Those in line to head agencies require Senate approval, as does Tai.

Rice and Fudge are African American and Tai is Asian American, reflecting Biden’s promise to choose a diverse Cabinet that reflects the makeup of the country.

Source: AP