President-elect Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden has worked with the former aide he wants to be secretary of state since their time at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1990s. His nominee for agriculture secretary endorsed his first presidential bid more than 30 years ago. And he knows his choice for Pentagon chief from the retired general’s time in Iraq, where Biden’s son Beau, a military lawyer, also served on the general’s staff.
For all the talk that Biden is abiding by a complicated formula of ethnicity, gender and experience as he builds his administration — and he is — perhaps the most important criteria for landing a Cabinet post or a top White House job appears to be having a long-standing relationship with the president-elect himself.
In accepting Biden’s nomination to be the first Black man to run the Defense Department, Gen. Lloyd Austin on Wednesday called Beau a “great American” and recalled the time he spent with him in Iraq and their conversations after he returned home, before his death from a brain tumor in 2015.
“As you, too, can attest, madam vice president-elect, Beau was a very special person and a true patriot, and a good friend to all who knew him,” Austin said.
President Donald Trump
It is a sharp contrast to President Donald Trump, who assembled a dysfunctional collection of Cabinet members he barely knew and after an initial honeymoon spent their time constantly at risk of being fired. With nearly half of Biden’s Cabinet and many key White House jobs announced, his administration looks more like a close-knit family.
Confrontation Of John Biden
Those who know Biden say he is confident of his own ability as a judge of character and has leaned on some of the same team of counselors for decades. His longtime Senate chief of staff and brief successor in the Senate, Ted Kaufman, is helping to lead the transition. Among his top incoming White House advisers, his counselor, Steve Ricchetti, and senior adviser, Mike Donilon, are longtime loyalists.
Not every appointee is a Biden intimate. This week, Biden rolled out his health care team and badly bungled the name of his incoming secretary of health and human services — Xavier Becerra — before correcting himself.
Turning to people close to him to run with long experience in government may be an advantage during confirmation battles in the deeply divided Senate. Many of his picks — like Tom Vilsack, who served for eight years as secretary of agriculture under President Barack Obama and has been nominated for the same job again — are well known to Republicans.
“I think he did an outstanding job for eight years and he’ll do an outstanding job for no more than four years,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters when asked about Biden’s decision to nominate Vilsack.
But a bigger test for Biden will be his decision on who should be attorney general and run the Justice Department at a time when racial tensions have roiled the country.
On Tuesday, a group of activists met with Biden to press him on nominating a Black person who will focus on civil rights and social justice issues. But with an African American now ready to lead the Defense Department — ensuring that the State, Treasury, Justice, and Defense departments will not all be led by white people — a number of prominent Democrats believe the president-elect may turn to Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who is white.
Jones would most likely prove easy to confirm in a closely divided Senate given his warm relationships with senators in both parties, including Alabama’s senior senator, Richard C. Shelby, a Republican.
But Jones has something else working in his favor: a long history with Biden.
As a young law student in Birmingham, Alabama, Jones was wowed by a visit from a freshman senator from Delaware and introduced himself to Biden. They grew closer when Jones moved to Washington to work on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And in 1987, Jones served as Alabama co-chair on Biden’s first campaign for president.