Cabinet Picks: Comparing Biden and Trump’s First Teams

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Cabinet Picks: Comparing Biden and Trump’s First Teams


WASHINGTON — Among the most urgent tasks a new president faces is assembling a core group of advisers to serve in the cabinet.

Donald J. Trump valued deal makers and personal wealth and demanded loyalty. In doing so, he created a cabinet of mostly wealthy, white men with limited experience in government, mirroring himself. His administration was the wealthiest of any American president’s: His secretaries of education, commerce and the Treasury, as well as his first secretary of state were worth a total of at least $1.3 billion and as much as $2.9 billion, based on financial disclosures.

President Biden has taken a different approach, turning to policymakers with government experience for most of his cabinet nominees, many of whom he has worked with for decades.

The new president has also prioritized diversity in filling out his circle of top advisers. He is on track to assemble the most diverse cabinet in American history. Mr. Biden has nominated far more women and more nonwhite cabinet members than Mr. Trump, and has chosen the first openly gay person to be a cabinet-level secretary.

Here is a look at some of their A-team lineups.

Treasury

Mr. Trump picked Steven Mnuchin, a wealthy financier with ties to Wall Street and Hollywood, to run the department that oversees tax, economic and debt policies. Mr. Mnuchin, who bankrolled movies including “X-Men” and “Avatar,” stepped into the position with no government experience after serving as the national finance chairman for Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. He had spent nearly 20 years at Goldman Sachs and later became involved in hedge funds. In 2009, Mr. Mnuchin was part of a group of investors that purchased a bank that had been seized during the financial crisis of 2008.

Mr. Biden turned to Janet L. Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chair with a long career in economics whose work is well known, including about two decades at the Fed. She was a chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration. She was confirmed as Treasury secretary by a bipartisan vote of 84 to 15 and is the first woman to hold the post. Ms. Yellen is now responsible for helping Mr. Biden prepare the $1.9 trillion stimulus package he has proposed, steer it through Congress and — if it is approved — oversee the deployment of the relief money.

State

Mr. Trump turned to Rex W. Tillerson, a globe-trotting chief executive of Exxon Mobil, who drew concerns from both Democrats and Republicans at the time over what appeared to be a cozy relationship with Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia. Mr. Trump at the time called Mr. Tillerson “a world-class player and dealmaker” and saw Mr. Tillerson’s command of the oil business as an asset. “To me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well,” Mr. Trump said at the time. “He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company.”

Mr. Biden chose Antony J. Blinken, his closest foreign policy adviser and a longtime aide who started working at the State Department during the Clinton administration. Mr. Blinken was Mr. Biden’s national security adviser while he was vice president and helped to develop the country’s response to the Arab Spring. He was also a key player in the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts to assemble more than 60 countries to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Commerce

Mr. Trump picked Wilbur Ross, a wealthy investor and Trump campaign donor, to run the department, which comes with a portfolio of overseeing technology regulation, climate change policy and weather monitoring, gathering economic data, and promoting American industry. Mr. Ross made his fortune through private equity investments. At one point he was known as the “king of bankruptcy” for purchasing, restructuring and selling off steel makers and other industrial companies. He took on the role at 79 without any government experience.

Gina M. Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island since 2015, has experience in both government and finance. Before she was governor, she was the state treasurer and founded a joint venture firm that helped finance a number of start-ups. She has been a rising star in the Democratic Party and has been praised for her push to reopen Rhode Island’s schools during the coronavirus pandemic. She put public and private schools on the same calendar to streamline the plans and opened rapid virus testing sites just for students and teaching staff. She also set up a statewide contact tracing system for the schools.

Health and Human Services

Mr. Trump picked Tom Price, a doctor who had been a Republican House member since 2005, to lead the department with a focus on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, the signature legislation of former President Barack Obama. When Mr. Price was chairman of the House Budget Committee, he backed plans to shift Medicare away from its open-ended commitment to pay for medical services, a move that could have increased costs for some people. Republicans said Mr. Price would bring a physician’s eye to the department, which they said was filled with heavy-handed regulation.

Mr. Biden has nominated Xavier Becerra, a former congressman and the attorney general in California, who with a profile on the issues of criminal justice and immigration had been thought to be a more likely candidate for attorney general. But he has for years fought the Trump administration on health care, among other issues, including the environment, immigration, education and civil rights. A day before Mr. Biden was sworn into office, Mr. Becerra announced that he would join a group of 18 attorneys general to fight the Trump administration’s final Environmental Protection Agency rule, which scientists have said is designed to block new public health protections by limiting research the agency is allowed to consider. If confirmed, he would be the first Latino to serve in the position and a leader in Mr. Biden’s battle against the pandemic.

Housing and Urban Development

For the sprawling housing agency that oversees housing voucher and rental assistance programs for low-income families, neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Biden turned to someone with a background in housing policy.

Mr. Trump chose Ben Carson, a retired renowned neurosurgeon with no government experience who briefly ran against Mr. Trump in the 2016 primaries. He became an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s. As a child, Mr. Carson at times relied on public assistance, growing up in an impoverished part of Detroit. But instead of championing that assistance, Mr. Carson sided with Republicans who believe welfare fosters dependency.

Mr. Biden’s choice, Marcia L. Fudge, has represented Ohio in the House since 2008, and she is a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Before that, she was the mayor Warrensville Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. Though she had hoped to be Mr. Biden’s agriculture secretary, she said she would be honored to lead the housing agency. She does not have experience working in housing policy, but she has focused on food security issues as the chairwoman of the House Agriculture subcommittee on nutrition.

Energy

For the agency with a portfolio that includes oversight of the United States nuclear weapons arsenal, 17 national laboratories and a swath of energy research and development initiatives, including climate change programs, Mr. Trump turned to Rick Perry, a former governor of Texas. While Mr. Perry brought government experience to the job, he lacked a basic understanding of what the department he was tapped to lead did. During a failed presidential bid in 2011, he even called for its elimination. In his 2010 book, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” Mr. Perry rejected the established science of human-caused climate change, calling it a “contrived, phony mess.”

Four years later, Mr. Biden picked Jennifer Granholm, a champion of renewable energy development and two-term governor of Michigan credited by some for pulling the state out of the 2008 recession. She does not have experience in the department’s nuclear programs, but since she left office, she has advocated renewable energy as a way to help expand state economies, which Mr. Biden has focused on in his virus recovery plan. If confirmed, she will be a key member of Mr. Biden’s team of climate change experts who are charged with confronting global warming.

Mr. Trump chose Betsy DeVos, a wealthy philanthropist, Republican fund-raiser and major supporter of charter schools and vouchers, which allow students to use taxpayer money to pay tuition at private, religious and for-profit schools. During her confirmation process in 2017, the Senate was so divided about whether she should assume the post that Vice President Mike Pence had to break the tie vote. Many educators felt that Ms. DeVos had a deep disconnect from public schools and questioned how she could manage such a large bureaucracy charged with overseeing education policy. Neither she nor her children attended public schools.

Mr. Biden chose Miguel Cardona, the commissioner of Connecticut’s Education Department, who both attended public schools as a child and taught in them during his teaching careers. He rose to become principal of one of the state’s schools, and then as state education commissioner oversaw more than 1,800 employees. If confirmed, he would be the first Latino to lead the department and oversee plans for children disrupted by the pandemic to return to school.

Environmental Protection Agency

Scott Pruitt, Mr. Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, came to the post with experience in challenging agency regulations on oil and gas policies and an agenda of undoing the Obama administration’s climate change efforts. Before he took the job, he was the attorney general of Oklahoma, closely aligned with the fossil fuel industry. As attorney general, he was part of an effort behind a coordinated legal fight against the Obama administration’s climate rules.

Michael Regan, Mr. Biden’s choice to run the agency, is North Carolina’s top environmental regulator and credited for the largest coal-ash cleanup settlement in the country. He worked as an air quality specialist at the E.P.A. during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. If confirmed, Mr. Regan will help oversee the reconstruction of the agency after four years of Mr. Trump’s unraveling of a half-century of pollution and climate regulations, and diminishing the science that underpinned them.



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