Following his inauguration on Jan. 20, President Joe Biden started to assemble the most diverse Cabinet in United States history. The Senate has already confirmed Biden’s nominations for the core 15 positions; of the additional eight Cabinet-level positions, the Senate has confirmed six.
Of the 21 confirmed positions, Biden’s Cabinet is 45 percent female and is 55 percent non-white, making it the most diverse Cabinet in the country’s history. Previous administrations were significantly more white male-dominated with 18 percent female and 18 percent non-white individuals comprising Trump’s Cabinet; 36 percent female and 45 percent non-white individuals made up in Obama’s Cabinet. Additionally, Biden’s Cabinet has had more government experience than the previous two administrations’ with 95 percent having government experience while 68 percent and 86 percent of Trump’s and Obama’s Cabinets, respectively, had any.
Biden’s first confirmation was placed Avril Haines as the first female Director of National Intelligence and has made her the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. intelligence community. Haines was the deputy national security advisor and deputy CIA director under Obama. During her tenure in the Obama administration, she was involved in several controversial decisions to further the drone strike program. Biden’s second confirmation made Lloyd Austin the first Black Secretary of Defense. Previously, Austin was the first Black general to command an Army division in combat.
Several other Cabinet positions have been confirmed as the first woman or the first person of color to fill their positions. Vice President Kamala Harris has made history as the first female, the first Black, and the first South Asian American Vice President. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, is the first Native American person to be a Cabinet secretary. Haaland was confirmed after serving as one of the first two Native American congresswomen in 2018 in New Mexico. Pete Buttigeg was confirmed as the Secretary of Transportation, making him the first openly gay Cabinet secretary. Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, is the first Latinx person an immigrant to hold this position. Notably, Mayorkas oversaw the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program under the Obama administration, during which he served as the deputy secretary of Homeland Security.
Because the Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tiebreaker between the evenly split chamber, Biden’s Cabinet positions have been confirmed relatively more quickly than those of the previous two administrations. Biden has filled the core 15 positions within the first two months of his presidency, while both Trump and Obama waited nearly 100 days to see the Cabinet confirmed.
Despite this, many positions have raised controversies and Republican senators pushed back against several nominations.
The most recently confirmed position placed former Boston mayor Marty Walsh as Secretary of Labor. A former top union leader, Walsh will be the first union member to fill this position in half a century. The most narrow confirmations were of Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. A strong advocate for climate action and outspoken opponent of fossil fuels, Haaland received only 51 votes to confirm with 40 against her. Xavier Becerra also received 51 votes to confirm his position but had 49 votes against him. This is in part due to Becerra’s lack of experience in health policy.
Oklahoma senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe were among the most dissenting senators during the confirmation hearings. Lankford voted against 11 nominations and Inhofe against 8 out of 21 positions that have been confirmed. The most dissenting senators were Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Texas’s Ted Cruz, who were against 19 and 18 nominations, respectively.
Still yet to be filled are two positions at the Cabinet level: Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Eric Lander was nominated to the former, but has yet to be confirmed; this position, which is essentially the presidential science advisor, was elevated to the Cabinet-level for the first time by President Biden. Lander led the Human Genome Project and founded a non-profit biomedical research institute at MIT and Harvard, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The White House withdrew the nomination of Neera Tanden for the Director of the Office of Management and Budget after it became clear she would not have enough votes to be confirmed; the position now awaits an alternative nomination.