Biden First Since Reagan to Get All Cabinet Picks Confirmed

The seemingly unremarkable event hadn't happened in four decades.

Source: The White House

CNN‘s Kevin Liptak (“Biden first president in decades to have first-pick Cabinet secretaries confirmed“):

President Joe Biden is the first president in more than 30 years to have all of his original Cabinet secretary nominees confirmed to their posts.

The Senate confirmed the final nominee, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, as Labor secretary Monday evening.
He was the last of the 15 major agency heads to receive confirmation from the US Senate. Those are the Cabinet positions included in the presidential line of succession.

While Biden did withdraw one nominee that he had designated Cabinet-level — Neera Tanden, who he had selected as his budget chief — the people now serving atop all the major administration agencies are his first pick.

As Tanden demonstrates, “cabinet” is an amorphous category. But I think Liptak is right to credit Biden for the achievement despite Tanden’s withdrawal, in that the Department heads are the true cabinet. Positions like OMB Director, UN Secretary, and others are sometimes designated “cabinet” for reasons of partisan habit or personal ego but they don’t manage a massive agency.

As noted in the headline, the last time this happened was with Ronald Reagan, forty years ago:

That has not been the case since President Ronald Reagan, who was the last president who saw all of his Cabinet nominees confirmed.

It’s worth noting, too, that there are two new agencies, Veterans Affairs (created under Reagan) and Homeland Security (created under George W. Bush) now, and thus theoretically two more opportunities to fail to get first picks confirmed.

For the most part, the failures are soon forgotten, which is why this apparently remarkable event seems so unremarkable.

His successor, President George H.W. Bush, was the last to have a Cabinet nominee rejected by the Senate. His selection for defense secretary, John Tower, was defeated by a 53-47 vote after revelations of alcohol abuse and womanizing.

President Bill Clinton’s first two selections to become attorney general, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, both withdrew from consideration after it became known they had hired undocumented workers to work in their homes for child care.

President George W. Bush withdrew his nomination of Linda Chavez to serve as labor secretary when it was revealed she had given money and provided shelter to an undocumented immigrant.

President Barack Obama had three original Cabinet picks withdrawn. Tom Daschle backed out of a nomination to serve as the Department of Health and Human Services secretary because of unpaid taxes. And two Commerce secretary picks, Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg, both withdrew — Richardson because of a pay-to-play investigation in which he was later cleared and Gregg because of policy disagreements.

President Donald Trump withdrew his selection for Labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, after it became clear he did not have the votes in the Senate to win confirmation. He was felled by allegations of hiring an undocumented immigrant as a nanny along with a tape of his ex-wife describing spousal abuse. She later said she had recanted those allegations.

Biden, who has complained the Senate wasn’t working quickly enough to confirm his nominees, also saw his 15 major Cabinet secretaries in place before the equivalent point in Obama or Trump’s terms. Both his immediate predecessors had to wait until the end of April in their first terms for the slots to be filled.

I remember all of those except, oddly, Puzder, but our attention quickly turns to successful nominees. Tower being rejected by his former Senate colleagues was perhaps the most shocking but Dick Cheney was widely considered an outstanding Defense Secretary. Given the tumultuousness of Janet Reno’s tenure, with numerous high-profile standoffs and incidents, Clinton would likely have been better off with Baird or Wood as AG. Given his long experience in the Senate, Daschle would likely have outperformed Kathleen Sebelius, who seemed overwhelmed by the task of implementing the Affordable Care Act.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ken_L says:

    Earlier this month, the media was littered with headlines such as “Why are Biden’s Cabinet confirmations moving so slowly …” and “Day 43: Biden’s Cabinet half-empty after slow start in confirmations.” Which like the “border crisis!” and the “razor thin majority” only goes to show how bereft of original ideas the US political media has become.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    And just think, in early February the pearl clutchers were worried that Biden was failing due to the few cabinet officers that had been approved. I believe that @James did a post on this subject at the time, correctly noting that the worries were rubbish.

    Biden got them through because they were thoroughly vetted and were broadly acceptable to Dems and many R’s. Good job.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Simple political competence. More please.

  4. Tony W says:

    And – the first president, to my knowledge, to get zero cooperation from the former administration in the transition. There’s no reason some of these picks couldn’t have been before the senate in early January other than ridiculous partisanship.