With the departure of Senator Bernie Sanders from the Democratic primaries, and the anointing of former Vice President Joe Biden as the party’s presumptive 2020 presidential nominee, political watchers are already beginning to speculate, plan, and hope for Biden’s potential cabinet if he is able to defeat incumbent Donald Trump in November.
With speculation rampant about Biden’s countless slipups on the campaign trail, and a presumption that he would inevitably be a one-term president (Biden would be 82 at his second inaugural), a Joe Biden presidency would require a strong, robust cabinet to both govern by consensus and committee while also preparing the Democratic Party for future leadership in the next election cycle.
Beyond promises to choose a woman to be his running mate and to appoint former congressman (and 2020 competitor) Beto O’Rourke to coordinate gun control initiatives (including possible confiscation), Biden has not made explicit promises about what the rest of his team would look like and who would be included.
The Democratic Party of 2020 had the largest field of presidential candidates in U.S. history, totaling twenty-nine major candidates. It’s likely a Biden cabinet would lean heavily on this list, with the former candidates most likely to receive an offer including California Senator Kamala Harris, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Washington state Governor Jay Inslee. Thomas Friedman in a recent column for the New York Times suggested that the job of U.N. ambassador goes to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Cabinet positions, like most political appointments, are determined through a mixture of best fits, patronage (such as repaying well-timed endorsements), and pleasing party financiers and donors. Biden’s selection would also lean heavily on grooming a new set of moderate, experienced candidates to lead the Democratic Party after his departure.
The best example of this selection process is that of Barack Obama’s in 2008. Thanks to a Wikileaks information dump in 2016, the American public is now aware of an email sent by then-Citigroup executive Michael Froman to John Podesta who was the co-chair of Obama’s presidential campaign.
Dated October 2008, a full month before the presidential election, Froman sent Podesta a series of lists of individuals “recommended by various sources for senior-level jobs.” The Wall Street executive (whose bank would be bailed out by the Obama administration in 2009) proved to have more clairvoyance than any commentator. Froman’s recommendations, including Eric Holder as Attorney General, Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, Rahm Emmanuel as Chief of Staff, keeping Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, and numerous other selections, all came true during the transition period.
It is not ludicrous to believe that some selections for Joe Biden’s potential cabinet have already been made. What might be outlandish, however, is believing that the selections are bound to be good-natured, and not based on politics and the needs of party donors.
Hunter DeRensis is the senior reporter for the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.