News·17 min read

Joe Biden's Core Cabinet: Who are they? And What Will They do?

Joe Biden
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Jan 19, 2021

As the White House changes hands and party control, we’ll once again see new faces working on Capitol Hill. And in Joe Biden’s first 100 days as president, he’ll face off against coronavirus, racial injustice, a divided country, and a struggling economy. With challenges that big, he’ll need a team that’s ready to hit the ground running. So, with no further adieu, meet Biden’s top picks for his core Cabinet.

* Indicates a position that still needs to be confirmed by the Senate

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Vice President...Kamala Harris

Position: The VP’s primary responsibility is to be ready at a moment’s notice to take over for the president if they are unable to perform their duties. But constitutionally, the VP does have another role. And that’s serving as President to the US Senate. 

Background: Other than breaking multiple firsts – as the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American VP – Harris was also a senator and attorney general from California. She previously ran for president in the 2020 Dem primaries against Joe Biden before joining his campaign under the VP mantle.

First 100 Days: With the Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, she will cast any tiebreaker votes. This enhances her typical duties, offers a slim Dem majority in the Senate, and will allow her to push the Biden agenda forward with her unique position.

Core Cabinet Picks

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Secretary of State...Antony Blinken.

Position: Develops and implements the president’s foreign policy. And serves as the president’s closest foreign affairs adviser.

Background: Blinken has extensive foreign affairs experience. He started his foreign policy career with the Clinton administration. And also served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during Obama’s presidency.

First 100 Days: His primary focus will be repairing Washington’s relationships with foreign governments and re-establishing America’s credibility on the world stage. Blinken will also be tasked with creating stability in a State Department that has seen a lot of turnover and has shrunk in size during the Trump administration.

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Secretary of Treasury...Janet Yellen.

Position: Advises the president on financial, economic, and tax policy matters. Also manages the public debt.

Background: Yellen has steered US economic policy for decades, earning cred across the aisle. She made history in 2014 when she became the first woman to run the Federal Reserve. She also served as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors from 1997-1999.

First 100 Days: Yellen is the first woman to lead the Treasury Dept in its 231-year history. She's tasked with prioritizing a new stimulus package to aid with economic recovery. And will have to tackle Biden’s economic campaign promises, like increasing taxes on businesses and some of the wealthiest Americans.

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Secretary of Defense...Lloyd J. Austin III.

Position: Advises the president on national defense. And leads the US military.

Background: The former US army four-star general, previously served in the military for 41 years. And before he retired in 2016, he was the chief of the US Central Command – in that role he oversaw military operations in the Middle East for three years.

First 100 Days: Austin is the first Black defense secretary. Biden’s administration is expected to take a less adversarial stance on Iran while seeking to restore stability in military decision-making. During Austin’s Senate confirmation hearing, he said that he’ll also focus on removing “racists and extremists” from the ranks of the US military.

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Attorney General… Merrick Garland.

Position: Lead advisor to the president on all legal and judicial matters.

Background: Garland is currently a federal appeals court judge. And is best known for being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama back in 2016. Senate Republicans at the time refused to give him a confirmation hearing, arguing that it fell too close to the next presidential election.

First 100 Days: Garland will likely focus on restoring the DOJ's independence from the White House. He’ll also play a pivotal role in the Biden administration’s approach to police reform.

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Secretary of the Interior...Deb Haaland.

Position: Oversees the nation’s natural resources, wildlife, public and federal lands, the National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Fish and Wildlife Services.

Background: Rep. Haaland was elected to the House of Representatives back in 2018, where she broke a barrier as the first of two Native American women elected to Congress. She’s a 35th generation New Mexican and a member of the Laguna Pueblo.

First 100 Days: She is the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. Haaland is tasked with leading Biden’s sweeping environmental agenda alongside Biden’s top climate aides. She will also oversee Biden’s promise to transition away from the oil industry. And will enforce Biden’s plan to increase protection of millions of acres of federal lands that the Trump administration opened up to mining, logging, and construction.

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Secretary of Agriculture...Tom Vilsack.

Position: Advises president on food production, agricultural and farming issues, food safety, and food assistance programs.

Background: Vilsack was previously the agricultural secretary during both terms of Obama’s presidency. He was also a former governor of Iowa. And more recently, was the CEO of the US dairy export council.

First 100 Days: He’s expected to reverse Trump’s policies on food assistance programs, restore school nutrition standards, and work toward supporting farmers who are just starting out. He’ll also likely work on incentives for farmers who practice sustainability.

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Secretary of Commerce...Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Position: Advises the president on job creation, economic growth, fair trade, and oversees the Census and National Weather Service.

Background: Raimondo has been the governor of Rhode Island since 2015. She’s also the first woman to lead the country’s smallest state. She previously founded a venture firm that helps finance startups.

First 100 Days: She will take the reins on releasing the 2020 Census data (remember that?) which has been on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic and last-minute schedule changes from the Trump administration.

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Secretary of Labor...Marty Walsh*

Position: Advises on federal employment laws, workplace safety requirements, and federal minimum wage. His department will also oversee programs to support worker training and enhance the skills of the American workforce.

Background: Walsh is currently the mayor of Boston. He was previously a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. And a union labor president before that.

First 100 Days: Upon confirmation, Walsh faces a major challenge stemming from the pandemic: job loss. He will likely focus on higher wages and better protections for workers. And may also focus on giving a boost to the US manufacturing sector – which Biden highlighted and promised to work on during his campaign.

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Secretary of Health and Human Services...Xavier Becerra.

Position: Oversees the CDC, Medicare and Medicaid, FDA, and the National Institutes of Health. He will be Biden’s advisor on all things related to health policy (like the Affordable Care Act).

Background: He is the current attorney general of California. And a former Democratic congressman. Becerra previously led a multi-state coalition legal defense of the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court.

First 100 Days: He is the first Latino to serve as health secretary. His first task would be reigning in the coronavirus pandemic. And boosting the Affordable Care Act, (remember: the Trump administration tried to repeal the ACA but was ultimately unsuccessful.)

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Secretary of Housing and Urban Development...Rep. Marcia Fudge.

Position: Advises the president on housing policy, with a focus on increasing and making homeownership more accessible.

Background: Rep. Fudge (D) has served Ohio’s 11th district since 2008. She had originally wanted to be Biden’s agriculture secretary in hopes of shifting the department from focusing on farming to honing in on hunger. But has since said that she’s happy to help this president in any way possible.

First 100 Days: She is expected to tackle affordable housing head-on after the pandemic left many without jobs and struggling to make ends meet to cover housing costs.

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Secretary of Transportation...Pete Buttigieg.

Position: Advises on transportation policy. And oversees regulators for highways, railways, aviation, and more.

Background: Mayor Pete is back. The South Bend, Indiana mayor ran for president in 2020 and made a name for himself as a rising star in the Democratic party. Before that, he was an intelligence officer or the Navy Reserve who served in Afghanistan. He’s also the first openly gay major party candidate to win delegates in a run for the WH.

First 100 Days: He’s expected to hit the ground running on infrastructure updates. (Think: repairs for roads and bridges.) He would also focus on carbon dioxide emissions, which Trump lowered during his tenure. And work toward Biden’s goal of creating stricter emission standards and adopting electric cars.

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Secretary of Energy...Jennifer Granholm.

Position: Advises on energy policy and oversees the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

Background: Granholm was the governor of Michigan from 2003-2011. And previously served as the state’s attorney general. She’s a longtime advocate for renewable energy development.

First 100 Days: She’ll likely champion Biden’s climate change initiatives, which looks to eliminate carbon emissions from the energy sector by 2035. She may heavily invest in renewable energy and tighten many of Trump’s rolled-back environmental regulations.

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Secretary of Education...Miguel Cardona.

Position: Advises the president on education policy and oversees financial aid programs.

Background: Cardona is Connecticut’s education commissioner. He was previously a fourth-grade teacher and assistant superintendent in the district where he formerly went to school. He's made some controversy during the pandemic as a champion of kids going back to in-person learning, advocating that students are falling behind due to virtual learning.

First 100 Days: Cardona is another history-making pick for Biden’s potential Cabinet. He is the first Latino to hold the secretary of education title. He inherits the pandemic's toll on the education system, and may likely reverse many policies from the previous administration. (Think: increasing funding for K-12 and higher education, enacting new civil rights protections for students, and focusing on racial equity.)

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs...Denis McDonough.

Position: Advises on federal services for veterans. This agency runs the largest health care system in the country. He’ll also handle financial and education benefits for the nation’s heroes.

Background: McDonough was Obama’s former chief of staff during his second term. And he was also the former president’s deputy national security adviser during his first term.

First 100 Days: He will likely move to beef up the VA system. And look to fill thousands of vacancies for doctors, nurses, and other medical staff.

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Secretary of Homeland Security...Alejandro Mayorkas.

Position: Advises the president on domestic security issues. This includes immigration and border-related policies, FEMA, cybersecurity, and counterterrorism efforts.

Background: Mayorkas is currently an attorney in the D.C. area. He previously served as the DHS deputy secretary during Obama’s second term. And as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during Obama’s first term.

First 100 Days: He is the first immigrant and first Latino to hold the title. He will work toward rolling back some of Trump’s harsher immigration policies. And would aim to stabilize the department, which had many vacancies during the previous administration’s tenure.


Biden made clear he wanted a Cabinet that reflected the diversity of the country. Now it's up to the Senate to decide if his picks get confirmed and can get to work.

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