December 1, 2020
President-elect Joe Biden is well on his way to creating the most representative federal government in American history. With a month and a half to go until the first-ever coronavirus inauguration, the Biden transition team continues to announce their picks for high-ranking government positions. On Sunday evening, Biden continued his history-making trend of nominating women and people of color to positions previously held by white men, announcing the choices for his communications and economic teams.
Washington, D.C., has long been a boys’ club, and Capitol Hill has never truly reflected most American identities and backgrounds. On the campaign trail, Biden promised that his ascension to the White House would bring with it an overhaul of the racist and sexist history of the federal government.
Consequently, for the first time ever, all of the head spokespeople for the White House will be women. Of the seven appointments, five are women of color and two are lesbian.
Kate Bedingfield, the former deputy campaign manager and communications director for Biden’s presidential campaign, will serve as the White House communications director. Bedingfield’s deputy will be Pili Tobar, who was also a top communications official on the Biden-Harris campaign. Jen Psaki, an Obama administration alum, currently works on the Biden transition team overseeing confirmations for appointments, and will serve as the White House press secretary. Psaki’s deputy will be Karine Jean-Pierre, a former senior adviser to Biden and Harris during the presidential campaign.
Ashley Etienne, a former senior adviser on Biden’s campaign, will serve as communications director for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Symone Sanders, who served as a senior adviser on the Biden campaign and was Sen. Bernie Sanders’s press secretary during his 2016 run, will be Harris’s chief spokesperson. Elizabeth E. Alexander, the former press secretary for Biden’s vice presidential office, will serve as the communications director for first lady Jill Biden.
Meanwhile, the nominees for economic positions in the executive branch include Janet Yellen for treasury secretary. If confirmed by the Senate, she’ll be the first woman ever to lead the Department. Yellen previously served as the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers and chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.
Neera Tanden will be nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget, an agency that oversees the federal government’s budget and shapes legislative goals based on how much money there is to spend. The Biden transition team boasts that if Tanden is confirmed, she’ll be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to lead the agency.
Other nominees are Wally Adeyemo for deputy secretary of the Treasury, Cecilia Rouse for chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey to serve as members of the three-person council.
Though it’s a good start toward following through on the promise that the 46th presidential administration will look more like the country it represents, identities are not policy positions. And unlike the communications team nominees, a few of the federal economic positions must be approved by the Senate, and already some names are ruffling feathers.
For instance, Tanden would have an immense amount of power in deciding what government spending looks like for the next four years, and would likely shape what resources the federal government deploys to recover from this pandemic-induced economic crash. But she’s a controversial figure in politics: Some leftists were upset with Tanden’s nomination given her track record of favoring cutting social safety net program spending, while Republican senators seem poised to vote down her nomination given her history of criticizing the GOP.
Tanden is in a difficult position of representing establishment Democratic politics at a time when the country is in need of a complete economic overhaul, illustrated by the fact that 12% Americans are going hungry, 1 in 6 Americans is unemployed, and tens of millions of Americans can’t afford to pay rent and may face eviction.
Tanden is no more moderate in her approach to government than Biden is, but Senate Republicans may make her confirmation difficult just to prove they can. It just goes to show that Biden following through on his pledge to diversify the government is only step one — and if step two is “pleasing everyone,” he may well never make it there.