Joe Biden picks first women and first Latino for key cabinet roles

Joe Biden, the US president-elect, has shown his determination to speed past Donald Trump’s flailing attempts to block the transition by naming leaders of his foreign policy and national security team.

a person wearing glasses: Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

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Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

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The president-elect put faith in experience on Monday by announcing Tony Blinken as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser and John Kerry as “climate tsar”, each signalling a return to the multilateralism of the Obama era.

Biden also picked Alejandro Mayorkas, who, if confirmed, would become the first Latino and migrant to be homeland security secretary; Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, who would be the first woman in that role; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield for ambassador to the United Nations.

“These individuals are equally as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative,” Biden said. “Their accomplishments in diplomacy are unmatched, but they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet the profound challenges of this new moment with old thinking and unchanged habits – or without diversity of background and perspective.”

a man wearing glasses: Avril Haines has been nominated to be the DNI. Biden said of his picks: ‘These individuals are as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative.’

© Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock
Avril Haines has been nominated to be the DNI. Biden said of his picks: ‘These individuals are as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative.’

Biden was also set to make Janet Yellen – the first woman to chair the US Federal Reserve – the country’s first female treasury secretary. The 74-year-old economist is expected to be named as Biden’s choice on Tuesday.

In making his choices Biden looked to send an unequivocal message to a global audience that election wrangling is over and he will take office on 20 January. Trump has refused to concede defeat, spreading false claims of election fraud and suffering legal humiliations in what critics describe as a haplessly executed coup attempt.

The move also reflected Biden’s commitment to greater diversity and to choosing professionals from the foreign policy establishment in preference to business executives and politicians, a hallmark of the Trump administration.

Blinken was Biden’s national security adviser when Biden was vice-president, then deputy secretary of state for two years under Barack Obama. Sullivan was an adviser to Hillary Clinton, took part in talks with Iran before the 2015 nuclear deal, and succeeded Blinken as Biden’s national security adviser.

Kerry, named special presidential envoy for climate, is a former senator and Democratic presidential nominee who was Obama’s second secretary of state and a key architect of the Paris climate accord, which the US quit under Trump.

He tweeted: “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is. I’m proud to partner with the president-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the president’s climate envoy.”

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Joe Biden’s cabinet should be half women

Now, as president-elect, he’ll soon be in a position to address the problem not just at the scale of a presidential ticket but in an entire administration. Court challenges and bad sportsmanship by President Trump and his allies are temporarily logjamming the transition of power, but in the meantime, Biden should make another pledge. He should commit to a Cabinet that is at least 50 percent women.

The shrewd reason: He owes it to them. He owes his large popular-vote margins to women, just as Democratic presidents have owed their margins to women for the better part of three decades. Though 2020 exit polls are still murky and incomplete, early analysis shows Trump won men by eight percentage points; if men were the only voters, the election would look very different. Women voted for Biden in the double digits.

The bandwagon reason: Other countries are ahead of the United States on this. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to gender parity in his Cabinet, as did French President Emmanuel Macron. In the cabinets of Finland, Sweden, South Africa, Costa Rica, Rwanda and Colombia, the numbers of women are equal to or greater than the numbers of men.

The practical reason: It should be easy. Women equal or outpace men in law school, medical school and college undergraduate programs. There have never been more of them in Congress (in this month’s election, 102 Democratic women and 32 Republican women were elected to the House of Representatives). There is no shortage of qualified women, no blockage in the pipeline, no drought in the talent pool.

The real reason: In the Year of our Lord 2020, there is simply no defensible reason not to.

If a president today cannot come up with a qualified Cabinet 50 percent composed of women or nonconforming genders, this reveals something unpalatable about the person in office.

The tired response to these arguments is going to be that Biden shouldn’t be thinking of gender but about “the best person for the job.” It’s a shopworn excuse. When Vice President Pence released a photo of the White House’s early coronavirus task force — the 17 people in it were all men, and nearly all White — the administration’s defenders argued that this was no time to be politically correct; this was the time to find “the best people for the job.”

That explanation only highlighted the problem. The White House presumably had access to the best scientific minds in the country. Given carte blanche to recruit the smartest people, the administration looked as hard as it could and determined that — huh, weird! — all of the smartest people were men. They were telling on themselves.

The story was the same for Donald Trump’s senior appointees at large, among whom there are only four women vs. 19 men in Cabinet or Cabinet-level positions. And for Barack Obama, where the ratio was 7 to 16. And for George W. Bush, whose outgoing Cabinet contained only five women.

Every one

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