Joe Biden’s Cabinet

The transition is on pace despite President Trump's best efforts.

Rumors and speculation about who Joe Biden might appoint to senior posts in his administration abound. Most of the names are encouraging—obviously-qualified people with years of relevant experience.

His only announcement thus far is Ron Klain as his chief of staff. I honestly can’t say I know much about him but he’s not much of a surprise, having filled that billet when Biden was Vice President and having been on his Senate staff.

His DoD transition team, in particular, looks likely to be quite solid. Michele Flournoy, who would almost surely have been Hillary Clinton’s pick had she won four years ago, is the odds-on favorite at Defense. While she wouldn’t be my first choice even among Democratic women (I’d much prefer Kath Hicks or Janine Davidson) she’s well-regarded and competent.

One ongoing controversy is whether, given the exceedingly likelihood of a Republican Senate for at least the next two years, whether he should risk further upsetting the balance by nominating the likes of Elizabeth Warren (Treasury), Bernie Sanders (Labor), Amy Klobuchar (Justice), or Tammy Duckworth (Defense longshot). A lot of progressives are pushing for Warren and Sanders, in particular, in hopes of nudging the administration left.

One name that I hadn’t seen until this morning is Angus King:

President-elect Joe Biden is considering plucking Angus King from the Senate to serve as director of national intelligence in his new administration, according to three people familiar with the transition team discussions.

The senator from Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is a prominent member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees. His appointment as Biden’s intelligence chief would give the president-elect someone in the position that both he and the intelligence community know well. But it would also vacate a Democratic Senate seat in a state that just overwhelmingly reelected a Republican, Susan Collins, to its other Senate seat.

During President Donald Trump’s tenure, King was an outspoken critic of what he called Trump’s politicization of the intelligence community through the appointment of loyal allies, including current DNI John Ratcliffe and former acting DNI Ric Grenell. Both aides came into the job with little intelligence experience.

King is highly qualified and presumably enjoys a strong relationship with Biden. Still, there are plenty of qualified choices that aren’t holding down a crucial seat. Indeed, the previous DHS speculation I’ve seen centers around Rep. Val Demings, who strikes me as unqualified by was widely touted to be among the finalists to be Biden’s running mate; Alejandro Mayorkas, who was a DHS deputy under Obama; and Lisa Monaco, who was an advisor in the Obama White House.

Similarly, while Klobuchar would be a perfectly fine choice as AG, there are more obviously qualified ones whose appointment would carry less downside risk. Among those in speculation: Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general and a former Congressman; Jeh Johnson, DHS secretary under Obama; Sen. Doug Jones, the surprise Alabama Senator who lost his longshot bid to retain the seat; and Sally Yates, the Acting AG who became a cause celeb after Trump fired her for refusing to defend his Muslim ban in court.

In the olden days, picking Senators for key posts was routine. They came with gravitas and relationships on the Hill. With exceedingly rare exception (John Tower comes to mind) they sail through Senate confirmation. But, despite my thin hopes that Biden and McConnell can revive something like the Ronald Reagan-Tip O’Neil dynamic, we haven’t seen that sort of comity in more than a quarter-century.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. OzarkHillbilly says:

    whether he should risk further upsetting the balance by nominating…

    I love your dry sense of humor, James.

  2. Pylon says:

    I didn’t know much about Klein but when I read his background he’s a perfect choice, and the pick has been universally applauded from both sides of the Democratic Party.

    I hope he goes with experts, not politicians, and ones who don’t hate the subject matter of their portfolio (DeVos).

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    …that Biden and McConnell can revive something like the Ronald Reagan-Tip O’Neil dynamic,…

    At the end of the day, both O’Neil and Reagan sought the betterment of the American people and understood that compromise was the way forward with the greatest public support. Moscow Mitch is a zero-sum nihilist.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    “Sally Yates, the Acting AG who became a cause celeb after Trump fired her for refusing to defend his Muslim ban in court.”

    I have read that McConnell has already passed word to Biden that she would be unacceptable.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: There’s still an outside chance at a 50-50 Senate with Kamala Harris able to break ties. But even a 49-51 Senate would be more conducive to getting things done than one that’s 46-54 after Republican governors appoint replacements.

    @Sleeping Dog: While I wouldn’t go that far, I agree that Reagan and O’Neil were actually trying to govern. Even in the two years (2017-2019) where Republicans controlled everything, they weren’t able to get all that much done under McConnell’s tenure.

    @Moosebreath: Yes, I think Yates would be a bridge too far. I think he’ll also have trouble if he tries to get Susan Rice in at State. I’m not sure either is worth the expenditure of limited political capital.

  6. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Its good to bring on old comfortable hands but Im looking to see how much new blood Biden brings in. There are a lot of talented people in this Country they need to be given the chance to run and innovation under the light hand of experienced coaching.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Nothing like letting your opponents pick your cabinet to avoid “upsetting the balance,” eh James? Maybe Joe should just go with an entire acting cabinet.

    Not your fault you missed the point I was making, I was trying to highlight the absurdity of using the word “balance” in relation to American politics, but did not bold those words.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Ah. The Senate gets to advise and consent, so they’ll obviously push back against picks they see as provocative. But that’s not really the issue here but rather it makes sense to take Democrats out of the Senate for the cabinet and risk their seats being filled by Republicans.

  9. Mr. Prosser says:

    Read somewhere yesterday (can’t find it now) that Hilary Clinton is being considered for UN ambassador. A very good move in my opinion.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Mitch McConnell would think a kumquat is provocative. In the past the question has always been, is the nominee qualified? Capable? Sally Yates leaps over those bars, but that’s not enough now. Apparently there are now new requirements a nominee has to meet, like “Never said anything mean about trump.”

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    It worked out so well for Dems, when Teddy died and Scott Brown (R) MA replaced him. In freaking Massachusetts the special delivered an R. When the Senate is this close and you have nice safe seat, leave it alone. Even the strongest voting Dem states have a Martha Coakley hiding in plain sight.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    Wasn’t there a story a week or more before the election that Biden had ruled out appointing sitting senators? Supposedly not only to avoid putting seats at risk, but also to leave influential senators in place. Now at that point a tie or one or two seat majority looked possible. The prospect of an R majority might change the calculus.

  13. DrDaveT says:

    Sounds like Joe should appoint a few sitting GOP senators, just to watch them decline. 🙂