No, Biden Shouldn’t Name His Cabinet Now

There's very little upside.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch argues “Joe Biden needs to say now who’ll be in his White House. It’s the only way he beats Trump.”

Why, pray tell, would that be helpful?

Biden’s biggest problem, to be brutally candid, is … Biden. Even though he’s made fewer appearances than other 2020 candidates and his speeches are shorter — a mere seven minutes at a recent big St. Louis rally — the ex-veep remains a human gaffe machine. I’m not going to join the loaded and over-wrought speculation on why he says things like anyone who doesn’t like him should “vote for the other Biden,” or imagines a South Africa arrest that never happened. But Democrats who pretend these gaffes aren’t real are about to be buried in an avalanche of videos and memes, both from Team Trump and from Team Putin.

Okay. But announcing a cabinet won’t make him less gaffe-prone. And Biden is running against Trump, who isn’t exactly known for his lucidity.

The other Biden problem was dramatized by the freak-out over the unsourced Axios story that he might staff his administration with Wall Street hacks: Young voters under 30 simply don’t trust him. At the start of 2020, Biden was polling in the low single digits with this youngest cohort; he’s improved slightly during his recent comeback, but Sanders’ huge lead with that generation speaks to concern that Biden is a status-quo candidate on pressing issues such as climate change and student debt. In 2016, enough young voters defected to the Green Party’s Jill Stein to, arguably, tip the Electoral College to Trump.

Okay. But, um, Biden actually is a status-quo candidate on climate change and student debt. Or, at least, no more progressive on those issues than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. How does announcing a cabinet fix that?

Bunch suggests that Biden select a woman, preferably Kamala Harris, as his running mate for all the usual reasons. Fine.

But, wait! There’s more:

— Climate czar Jay Inslee. During his too-brief and too-ignored bid for the White House, Washington state governor Inslee was a revelation, combining the fervor for clean energy of a 19-year-old Sunrise Movement protester with the get-things-done know-how of the button-down 69-year-old former Congress member that he is. Putting Inslee in charge of climate policy or, perhaps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would go a long way toward reassuring the youth vote that Biden takes the climate crisis seriously.

— The women who stood up to Trump. The day after Biden wins the Florida primary, imagine him standing on a stage with Sally Yates — the former acting attorney general fired after warning about future felon Michael Flynn — and former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and former top Russia aide Fiona Hill and announcing that all three will have high-level jobs in the Biden administration. These three came to epitomize the patriotic public servant who was steamrolled by Trumpism, and their return would be a powerful statement.

— Commerce Secretary Pete Buttigieg. A cabinet post for the over-performing 38-year-old former South Bend mayor would be one more signpost to see Team Biden as a bridge to the future and not just one rambling old dude, and Commerce would be a good place for the McKinsey (sigh) alum to prove he can bring jobs to the Rust Belt. (And a reminder that Biden was a key ally is the fight for people like Buttigieg to gain the right to get married.) Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum — who like Buttigieg have struggled to win statewide in their red states — should also get pre-certified as Cabinet members, if they want those jobs.

— Put progressives over the financial sector and other white-collar crooks. Yates, as noted above, would be a popular and experienced choice for Biden’s AG, but if the would-be POTUS 46 is serious about uniting the Democrats in Milwaukee he needs to somehow show he won’t pull a Barack Obama and put the wolves of Wall Street in charge of the chicken coop.

Yes, Warren would be a fantastic Treasury secretary — imagine serving consumers and not the bankers — but like most observers I think she’d rather stay in the Senate and carry on the legacy of the man who once filled the same seat from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy. There’s also the complication that the liberal bastions of Massachusetts and Sanders’ Vermont both, bizarrely, have GOP governors who would pick their replacements.

The column goes on for a few more paragraphs without offering any more names, so we’ll stop there.

I personally like some of these picks and hate some of the others. But announcing them would do nothing to motivate me to vote in November.

I can’t imagine the 22-year-old who would otherwise sit out the election but is going to turn out because Inslee is going to be appointed to a job that doesn’t exist. Or because Buttigieg is the Commerce Secretary-in-waiting.

I doubt many of them could name the current Commerce Secretary. Or Obama’s Commerce Secretary.

Meanwhile, there are rather obvious downsides to naming a cabinet early.

From a coalition-building standpoint, there are more people who want a plum job in a prospective Biden administration than there are vacancies to fill. Right now, Amy Klobuchar might think she’s going to be VP. Why tell her otherwise any sooner than necessary?

And, of course, naming a dozen people just gives the opposition a dozen people to attack. Why give the opposition the ammunition?

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Africa, Climate Change, 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. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Did you SEE what Biden said in Michigan?

    An individual got up and confronted Biden:

    “You are actively trying to end our Second Amendment right and take away our guns,” the worker told Biden.

    Biden said:

    “You’re full of sh**.” “I support the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment — just like right now, if you yelled ‘fire,’ that’s not free speech,” Biden continued. “And from the very beginning — I have a shotgun, I have a 20-gauge, a 12-gauge. My sons hunt. Guess what? You’re not allowed to own any weapon. I’m not taking your gun away at all.”

    The man repeated his accusation that Biden was “trying to take our guns,” and Biden pushed back. “I did not say that. I did not say that.”

    After the worker told him that he had made the remark in “a viral video,” the former vice president replied that “it’s a viral video like the other ones they’re putting out that are simply a lie.”

    “This is not OK, alright?” the man said, to which Biden replied, “Don’t tell me that, pal, or I’m going to go out and slap you in the face.”

    “You’re working for me, man!” the worker said.

    “I’m not working for you,” Biden said. “Don’t be such a horse’s ass.”

    You go, boooyyye!

    (source: CBSNews)

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:
    There’s more to this….including when Biden’s aide tried to break up the discussion, and Biden shushed him.
    Glad to see this…as long as Biden keeps the facts straight and doesn’t give the right wing echo chamber ammunition.

  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Why give the opposition the ammunition?

    And also vetting…look what happened to McCain when he picked Sarah Palin without proper vetting.
    No thanks.

  4. Kari Q says:

    I can see no benefit to doing this and a lot of drawbacks. I wonder if Will Bunch was just tired of writing about COVID-19.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m going to demur just a bit and suggest that there may be upsides to at least a partial cabinet. For a start, word that Sally Yates might take over DoJ would stiffen the spines of Justice employees being tempted into corruption by Bill Barr. Might even scare Barr a bit.

    And Biden could use a strong signal that he isn’t putting yet another Goldman Sachs creature in at Treasury. I wish it could be Warren, but we can’t lose her seat. How about Paul Krugman? He’s got a Nobel in economics.

  6. CSK says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:
    I do hope Biden doesn’t decide to start imitating Trump’s worst characteristics. It’s not going to make him look tough and macho.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    I do hope Biden doesn’t decide to start imitating Trump’s worst characteristics. It’s not going to make him look tough and macho.

    This x 1000.
    That’s been my fear with Biden from the jump. It’s important to push back, but that’s a fine line to walk. Biden’s buttons are easily pushed.
    But it’s looking like he’s the one that will be nominated to remove Trump from office…so I’m behind him, 110%

  8. gVOR08 says:

    Why, pray tell, would that be helpful?

    Yup. He doesn’t need to name a veep until the convention, although, at his discretion, it might be helpful to get the veep out campaigning earlier. But not before he’s clearly the presumptive nominee. As to the cabinet, you’re right, it would just more targets for Republicans to lie about. Until he really does need to name names, he can have it both ways, letting lots of popular names be floated.

  9. Kari Q says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The idea was floated in 2008 and Krugman said he had no interest in a government job and it wasn’t his area of expertise. Krugman could change his mind, of course, but it seems unlikely.

    Besides, I feel like that would be way too close to Trump’s habit of nominating whoever he’s seen on TV just because he knows their name.

  10. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Krugman is not a financial economist but a trade economist. It’s like assuming a neurosurgeon is a great candidate to be a virologist. He’s not particularly strong in the issues. @Kari Q: as Krugman is good enough to know. (noting that while I don’t care for Krugman’s politics, I have the utmost respect for his actual economics work, having in fact learned my trade economics from his work).

    A Treasury / Finance Minister needs to understand the technical guts of the Financial System or you make gross errors. And no, lawyers are not typically great at this (although Madame LaGardge is an exception). Aversion to appointing a banker to this is a Lefty version of know-nothingism. Should one desire a Left leaning banker, there’s actually not a bad selection. Or at least a financial economist from the Federal Reserve, people who understand the technical guts of the system (such as inter-bank liquidity issues, cross risks) in the way bankruptcy lawyers simply do not.

    As for the critique Joyner quotes, this falls directly into the Media & High Education perception error that Ezra KLein I think rather spot on describes in his arty at Vox: Joe Biden Electability [his own self-critique]

    ournalists who’ve based their professional lives on clear, crisp, stylish communication find it shocking when candidates get lost in rhetorical mazes of their own construction. But both Bush and Trump won the presidency. And Ronald Reagan won reelection in a landslide, even though he couldn’t recall what city he was in during the first presidential debate and admitted to being “confused.”

  11. CherylJosie says:

    “Okay. But announcing a cabinet won’t make him less gaffe-prone.”

    Warren isn’t getting a seat in Biden’s cabinet; that’s just a ploy to win her endorsement. Biden doesn’t want reform. Maybe that’s why Warren hasn’t endorsed Biden. Maybe she doesn’t want to sell out for nothing and maneuver herself out of a cabinet position in Bernie’s administration if he wins. It was painful enough for her to break her progressive pledge and set up her super PAC of undisclosed donors just to find out that no millionaires and billionaires supported her candidacy anyway. Endorsing Biden on a tease would just add to that misery. She’d look like Chris Christie.

    Warren is also upset with Bernie over a misunderstanding about whether a woman can win the presidency. She probably misinterpreted something innocent that he said as something that a ‘Bernie Bro’ Russian troll or Howard Stern-like Bernie supporter said about her. After all the crap that Sanders has gotten online, you’d think that she would be more sympathetic to Sanders now that she’s gotten some too, but instead it seems enough to keep her from endorsing him. Maybe it’s also a herd mentality thing where the pack is finally turning on Sanders and she just had to join in.

    Maybe Warren doesn’t want to upset Chuck Schumer either, in case Bernie loses and she remains in the Senate. Maybe like Obama, Warren won’t endorse anybody except behind closed doors. If it’s that difficult for Warren to choose sides, maybe that says something about the Democratic Party. Maybe all the money has corrupted it so much that it’s dysfunctional. Maybe that’s the plan?

    Trump tuned in to right wing frustration but he also struck a chord with liberal frustration when he called it a ‘swamp’. Then Steve Bannon manipulated just enough persuadeables in swing states by spying on them through Cambridge Analytica with Facebook that Trump won the electoral college even though Trump’s ground game was nearly nonexistent and Clinton outspent him nearly 2:1.

    There’s a reason why Democrats keep losing the electoral college, and it isn’t because they are too liberal. The problem isn’t Biden floating a cabinet full of Wall Street hacks and a fake enticement to Warren. The problem is just Biden. He pretends to be an average middle class guy, but he sides with the wealthy and corrupt. It’s all over his record. Biden lagged on reform through his entire career and is the principle architect of mass incarceration that puts more people behind bars per capita than in any other nation on the planet, with the majority of them being minorities.

    Then there’s Biden lying constantly about how involved he wasn’t in civil rights. It’s amazing that Biden did so well with blacks in the south, and a testament to the ignorance of the average voter when the mainstream media is out to create this myth of the liberal Democratic Party that promises justice but delivers lip service. “Change you can believe in.” The catch is that you can believe in it but you just can’t actually have it. Change on the outside, continuity on the inside. ‘Return to normal’. Business as usual.

    Biden can’t attack Trump on the issues because aside from the raging fascism and right-to-lifeing they basically agree on just about everything, including cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting entitlements for the rest of us, while continuing to bloat the military and pursue fossil empire.

    Biden also slobbers in women’s hair and runs his hands over their bodies in public while plagiarizing his speeches and lying about his record. Biden can’t attack Trump on anything in the character department either because Biden also dabbles.

    Republicans will make mince meat out of him and not care that Trump is an even worse creep. For them, creepiness is not a bug, it’s a feature, because it’s ‘strong’ to mess with people. The only thing that neofascists care about is projecting strength, and it’s enough of a rallying cry for them to vote as a bloc and prevail against liberals who won’t do likewise. Liberals need an actual liberal in order to prevail, or else they aren’t motivated to go out and vote for the candidate. The problem isn’t Biden’s cabinet, it’s Biden the person.

    “In 2016, enough young voters defected to the Green Party’s Jill Stein to, arguably, tip the Electoral College to Trump.”

    A myth. Stein didn’t get appreciably more votes in 2016 than prior Green Party candidates that have hovered between 1-3% for over a decade.

    So what’s this language about ‘defecting’? Democrats don’t own the youth vote. The Green Party is actually liberal. Democrats aren’t entitled to the young liberal voters in the Green Party and nobody is ‘defecting’. There’s little overlap.

    The Democratic Party just gives lip service to liberalism and then sells out to moneyed interests anyway. Green Party voters have moved on. If anything, Democrats are stealing Green votes and plagiarizing Green policies. The ‘Green New Deal’ originated in the European Global Greens of a decade ago and only recently caught on in the US Democratic Party with the progressive push of Justice Democrats.

    After the mess in Iowa with the hastily rigged voting app breaking down everywhere, young people are never going to trust the Democratic Party to count votes again. Without a return to paper ballots and a public spreadsheet tabulating results where everyone can cross-reference their anonymous voter number against the working tally, there’s zero accountability and zero trust. Better yet, if we can bank online and get a receipt, we should also be able to vote online and get a receipt. We should be able to go check that our vote was correctly tallied.

    This isn’t rocket science, but the only reason it’s being handled behind closed doors by private entities with secret proprietary software is so that the vote can be rigged with impunity.

    Both major parties do it now that Democrats are using smarthphone apps to tally primary votes, but Republicans own the companies that make the majority of the voting machines, those machines are being mismanaged and hacked, we can’t find out or prove anything without paper ballots to confirm the true count and access for everyone to the actual anonymized ballots. Central tabulators are another weak link where accountability is lacking, and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise. They’ve been known to be hacked in the past.

    Online voting can’t be messed with by playing musical voting machines in minority districts to suppress votes either. The voting machine is the smartphone in your hand and if we can register a bank account with one, register our car with one, and renew our driver’s license with one, we should also be able to register to vote and cast a ballot with one. That’s democracy, and it also helps prevent the spread of coronavirus.

    It is also a myth that Bernie tanked Hillary and wouldn’t share his funding with down-ballot candidates. Bernie held 39 rallies for Clinton and fundraised for progressive down-ballot candidates directly without laundering his fundraising through the DNC. Clinton had shared power at the DNC with one of her supporters by virtue of her funding it, as disclosed in her contract that was leaked, and she used the DNC to launder DNC contributions into her own campaign too while claiming it was Sanders who wasn’t helping down-ballot candidates.

    More Bernie supporters voted for Clinton than Clinton supporters voted for Obama. Clinton supporters’ slogan in 2008 was, ‘PUMA’, Party Unity My A$$ once she dropped out. Look it up. Bernie Bros? Really? That’s Clinton propaganda. She also called Obama supporters ‘Obama Bros’ and pretended that him appearing in Kenyan ceremonial garb for a ceremony was proof that he wasn’t born in the USA and secretly supported Islamic terrorism.

    Green Party voters are Green Party voters. Some, like me, are also independents. We can’t be counted on to fall in line behind establishment corporate right wingers in liberal clothing from the Demopublican ‘centrist’ right wing corrupt corporate party. What makes us unique is that we stick to our liberal principles even if it means Democrats don’t win, because we are not Democrats, we are liberals first and vote Democrat only when Democrats nominate a liberal. It’s an exercise in nose-holding but sometimes we take a deep breath if it looks worthwhile, otherwise we vote Green and pray for a miracle because it’s better than collaborating with a doomed oligarchical empire that is destroying the planet. Nobody owns us and there’s no such thing as ‘defecting’. We are sovereigns in our own right and if somebody wants our vote they have to earn it.

    Joe Biden isn’t a liberal. Joe Biden is Republican Lite, a center-right corporatist who could lose to a real live Republican, even if it’s Trump, because Republican Lite usually loses to an actual Republican, especially given that Biden is showing signs of even worse cognitive decline than Trump is, despite Biden’s obviously superior intelligence.

    A vote for Biden in the primary is a vote for Trump in the general because Biden is likely to lose to Trump. It’s sad that Democrats are desperately trying to rescue Biden from himself. I’m not voting for Biden because I’m not a Democrat, I’m actually a progressive with principles. I’m voting for my principles. It’s not my fault if the Democratic Party doesn’t have any. It’s their fault. They can own it and stop trying to blame me for it. They can stop pretending that Biden playing coy with his cabinet is going to entice me to vote for him. I already know the man, and he’s not Sanders, not even close. He’s not green. He’s just another dirty corrupt corporatist and apparently he is also going senile. He’s not entitled to my vote and he hasn’t earned it.

  12. Lounsbury says:


  13. An Interested Party says:

    Biden can’t attack Trump on the issues because aside from the raging fascism and right-to-lifeing they basically agree on just about everything, including cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting entitlements for the rest of us, while continuing to bloat the military and pursue fossil empire.

    This isn’t even worthy enough to be called “Dezinformatsia”…

    So what’s this language about ‘defecting’? Democrats don’t own the youth vote. The Green Party is actually liberal. Democrats aren’t entitled to the young liberal voters in the Green Party and nobody is ‘defecting’.

    Young people don’t vote and until they do, they can be largely dismissed when it comes to elections…

    More Bernie supporters voted for Clinton than Clinton supporters voted for Obama.

    Prove it…

    It’s sad that Democrats are desperately trying to rescue Biden from himself.

    Actually, what’s sad is that you think you’re convincing anyone…oh sure, in 2016, the full stench of Trump wasn’t widely known and some people threw away their votes on fringe candidates but now everybody knows all about his scum and responsible liberals will vote for Biden over candidates from fringe parties…the goal is to beat Trump, not feel secure in your purity…

  14. JosephK says:

    Biden has no chances

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    Bernie’s voters did not show up; Biden’s did. There was no swell lifting Bernie, the swell lifted Biden.

    Everything else is bullshit.

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    What it cannot be is another banker from Goldman, but beyond that political point, I’ll concede that I don’t know one variety of economist from the next.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Biden has no chances

    Oh really? And what do you base that on…

  18. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @CherylJosie: I’m glad the Democrats are beating you nuts back in the cellar where you belong. The Republicans were too stupid to do the same with the tea party in 2010.