UPDATED: 12:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 15, 2021:
The promise to have a cabinet that “looks like America” has been more than kept by Joe Biden. In fact, it’s been all but a mandate as the president-elect is set to have the most diverse group of executive branch leaders and presidential advisers in U.S. history.
And while history is being made on a number of fronts for the esteemed group – a record number of women have been named, for instance — Biden’s commitment to making it a point of emphasis to designate Black people for powerful and influential positions has been nothing short of impressive.
Oh, did we mention that Biden also has the shrewd political — and legal — expertise of a Black woman vice president to lean on? Kamala Harris is expected to play an outsized role in Biden’s administration in a departure from the subtle functions traditionally expected from vice presidents.
Biden had to fill more than four dozen roles, from his chief of staff through the U.S. attorney general, neither of whom is Black. But at the same time, Biden has put multiple Black people in a position to make history and work in capacities that, if done well, can not only make a serious difference but will also do so at a time when their consequential roles are arguably needed more than ever by the U.S. government.
In other words, Biden didn’t just nominate another Black person to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an office that many presidents have relegated to African Americans. Yes, did name a Black person to lead HUD. But reduce his choice would be short-sighted in this particular case — especially since he named one of the most impressive Black leaders America has today. Marcia Fudge is no Ben Carson.
Making the moment a bit more significant is the fact that Biden served as second in command to the nation’s first Black president, heightening expectations — whether fair or not — for multiple African Americans to serve in key cabinet roles.
And for all the Black people Biden nominated for Biden’s cabinet or named as his top advisers, there were many, many others who were also under consideration. Household names like Stacey Abrams, whose voting rights organization Fair Fight’s groundwork in Georgia helped flipping the state blue for the first time in 30 years with election results that all but sewed up Biden’s historic election. She is also widely credited with helping to secure this month’s runoff elections that gave Democrats the edge in the U.S. Senate. However, it’s been reported she has her sights set on avenging her gubernatorial loss in 2018 when she fell victim to a massive Republican-led voter suppression effort.
Other familiar names of Black people Biden reportedly considered for his cabinet include, but certainly were not limited to Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama, and former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
But Biden also reportedly considered Black people for high-profile jobs despite their lack of immediate name recognition.
For instance, Darrell Blocker, who has more than 30 of experience in the U.S. intelligence community, specializes in counterterrorism, security and intelligence, with a focus on Africa, Iran and North Korea, and has served in 10 foreign countries. He could have easily been nominated for CIA director. And Raphael Bostic, the first African American president of one of the 12 Federal Reserve regional banks, is certainly qualified to lead the Treasury Department.
Biden ultimately decided to go with other, equally qualified choices for those two cabinet positions.
There was a little controversy over Biden decision for who to lead the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been accused of ignoring Black farmers’ pleas for federal assistance. Civil rights activists described Biden’s choice of Tom Vilsack, a white man who served in that same role under Obama, as a snub to Shirley Sherrod, the Black woman and former Agriculture employee who Vilsack fired under unfortunate circumstances.
Sherrod, who served as the USDA’s Georgia Director of Rural Development, was fired after Vilsack viewed a nefariously edited 38-second video clip provided by Andrew Breitbart — for whom the racist, right-wing online news site is named — during an address she gave to the NAACP that was presented to seem like she refused federal assistance to a white farmer because of the color of his skin. The full, unedited video was later published showing that Sherrod actually told the audience she was able to use the encounter as a learning mechanism in the broader context of race relations and felt even more compelled to help the white farmer.
Sherrod rebuffed offers from Vilsack and Obama to reinstate her employment in a role that was in a completely different capacity from the one she had been working.
In was in that context that Biden still decided Vilsack was the best candidate for the job.
With that said, Biden’s commitment to racial diversity is well documented. That has continued since his election, including with his transition team that is stacked with Black policy leaders. He’s also vowed to name a Black woman to be a Supreme Court Justice if he gets the chance.
Could Biden have named Black folks? Of course.
Did he leave Black folks hanging with his cabinet picks, though?
That’s a question this writer cannot answer. But perhaps the below list of Black people shaping up to be a key part of Biden’s historic administration can.
1. Gen. Lloyd Austin, Department of DefenseSource:Getty
Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin was selected by Joe Biden to lead the Department of Defense. If confirmed, Austin would be the first Black secretary of defense.
Austin made the cut amid Biden getting pressure from Black and Latino leaders for him to name more minorities to his cabinet. It was unclear if that compelled Biden to act.
There is a law for secretaries of defense to have established civilian status for at least seven years. Austin, 67, who had an illustrious career in the Army for more than 40 years, has been retired for fewer than five years.
The only way to circumvent that rule is for Congress to grant a waiver, something that Democrats were highly resentful of when Donald Trump‘s Defense nominee Gen. James Mattis was given one and ultimately confirmed to the cabinet position. A Democrat-led Congress granting a waiver to Austin could be seen as hypocritical and be used as future political capital against them by Republicans.
Biden called Austin “the person we need in this moment” and said Congress should grant him a waiver just like it did with Mattis.
2. Rep. Karen Bass, HUDSource:WENN
The New York Times reported that Karen Bass, who was also on Biden’s shortlist of people he was vetting to be his VP pick, was a top contender to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Congresswoman who represents os Angeles just recently won her re-election and remains the Chair of the influential Congressional Black Caucus. Bass, who is a former physicians assistant, is also one of the names reportedly being touted for Secretary of Health and Human Services, a position that many feel should be occupied by a Black person in the medical field or with prior experience.
3. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, vice chair of the Democratic National CommitteeSource:Getty
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to be a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The announcement came hours after it was reported that Biden tapped former South Carolina Senate candidate Jaime Harrison to lead the DNC.
If confirmed, Bottoms will be the DNC’s vice hair for civic engagement and voter protection, two things she knows especially well following her hard work in Georgia’s general and Senate runoff elections, both of which had national implications.
Bottoms previously turned down a chance to serve in Biden’s cabinet, though it was never announced which role was offered to her.
4. Kirsten Clarke, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights DivisionSource:Getty
Kristen Clarke was nominated to serve as Assistant Attorney general of the Civil Rights Division under the Department of Justice. Clarke has maintained a formidable career, seeking to uphold justice through her work as the president and executive of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. One of her most notable cases was defending Taylor Dumpson, the first Black woman to serve as student government president at American University, who accused Andrew Anglin, a known neo-nazi and editor of the Daily Stormer, of inciting violence against her. Dumpson won her case and was awarded more than $700,000 in damages, according to The Washington Post.
Clarke previously headed the Civil Rights bureau of the New York Department of Law. She’s devoted her career to ensuring the upholding of justice and civil rights and will undoubtedly carry that legacy into her new position if confirmed. Clarke also worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund where she focused on voting rights and election law.
“This job is about justice. It’s about equality. And under our DOJ, we’ll move closer to the TRUE meaning of equal justice under law. Honored to be nominated by @JoeBiden to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division,” Clarke tweeted after being nominated on Jan. 7.
5. Rep. Marcia Fudge, Housing and Urban DevelopmentSource:Getty
Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge has been picked to be the next U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary. The highly influential former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus was rumored to be angling to lead the Department of Agriculture, but President-Elect Joe Biden signaled he’d prefer her at HUD. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to lead the federal housing agency.
Politico reported that Fudge “has made increasing food stamp benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program a primary issue” and “been fiercely critical of the nutrition rollbacks at USDA and other actions there, including the approach to scientific research.”
However, Biden decided that she would be a better fit to lead HUD.
6. Joelle Gamble, National Economic CouncilSource:Courtesy of Biden-Harris Transition Team
Joelle Gamble was named Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy on Dec. 21. Prior to her appointment, she served on the Biden-Harris Transition’s domestic economic policy team. Gamble was a principal at Omidyar Network, a social change venture established in 2004. She also worked as Senior Advisor to the President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute, as well as the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s programming for enterprising leaders in public policy. A former community organizer, Gamble is a graduate of UCLA and Princeton University.
7. Jamie Harrison, DNC ChairSource:Getty
Jaime Harrison was selected to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The former lobbyist set a Senate fundraising record with $57 million in the final full quarter of the campaign season when he was a candidate in South Carolina. Harrison will now have a chance to govern the entire Democratic Party.
8. Michael Regan, EPA
Biden picks Michael Regan, top North Carolina environmental official, to run EPA https://t.co/JJzYjFdevB— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) December 17, 2020
Michael Regan was nominated as the next Environmental Protection Agency administrator on Dec. 17. At 44, he will be the first Black man to run the EPA. If confirmed, Regan will oversee policies relating to climate change, green energy and environmental racism, a topic that became a national conversation during the Flint water crisis. The North Carolina A&T University alumnus was working as the head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. when Biden nominated him.
9. Susan Rice, White House Domestic Policy Council DirectorSource:Getty
Susan Rice will head the Domestic Policy Council, where she will ensure the carrying out of Joe Biden’s domestic policies, including immigration, racial justice and climate change. Prior to the announcement, Rice was reportedly being considered for Secretary of State, a position that requires the type of foreign policy leadership experience she displayed while working as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and National Security Adviser under Obama.
She was also under consideration to be Biden’s vice-presidential running mate before he chose Kamala Harris.
The position does not require a Senate confirmation, something that will avoid reigniting the controversy surrounding her comments describing South Carolina Sen. and Trump loyalist Lindsay Graham as a “piece of shit.” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called Rice “a human lightning rod” because of accusations that she intentionally released incorrect information about the Benghazi scandal in 2012. However, Congress ultimately cleared Rice of any wrongdoing.
10. Cedric RichmondSource:Getty
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond officially joined the Biden administration after it was announced he would serve as a senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, which is not a cabinet position.
11. Symone Sanders, Vice President’s spokesperson
All of the reporting I've seen has indicated @SymoneDSanders is the frontrunner for Press Secretary so I'm expecting her to be picked. But let me add to the chorus to say she is the CREDENTIALS pick in addition to being historic. #BlackWomenLead https://t.co/cvFGjq1xLB pic.twitter.com/4Qd5D14pVR— BlackWomenViews Media (@blackwomenviews) November 14, 2020
While White House press secretary is not considered a cabinet-level position, it is still a high-profile role nonetheless that has never been filled by a Black person. Symone Sanders, a political strategist and cable news analyst, recently served as senior adviser for Biden’s presidential campaign.
Sanders was one of three Black women named to the Biden-Harris all female led communications team over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Sanders’ supporters playfully floated the idea that she could make an effective Secretary of Defense in March when a protester ran onstage during a speech Biden was giving in Los Angeles. After security pulled the protester away, a second protester rushed the stage, prompting Sanders to act quickly and drag her offstage.
The video footage went viral. Watch it here.
12. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, UN AmbassadorSource:Getty
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Liberia and as director-general of the Foreign Service, as well as assistant secretary for African affairs, was nominated to be Joe Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Liberia and as director-general of the Foreign Service, as well as assistant secretary for African affairs, was nominated to serve as the ambassador to the United Nations, making her the first and only Black candidate in his cabinet.
If true, she would be the first Black person named to Biden’s cabinet.
“I don’t feel targeted as an African American. I feel targeted as a professional,” Thomas-Greenfield said at the time.