The many firsts in the Biden presidency

The many firsts in the Biden presidency
photo source: Chip Somodevilla

If there is one notable result of the Biden-Harris victory it is the first time that a female vice president has won the election. Many tried if before like Geraldine Ferraro who ran in 1984 as presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate. Ferraro was the first woman nominated for national office by a major party. But the Mondale-Ferraro ticket was buried in a Reagan-Bush landslide ending what might have become as a national sensation where women did not have a place in presidential politics before. These positions were then reserved for men. But Ferraro removed the “men only” sign from the White House door.

It would be another 24 years before another woman from a major party was nominated for vice president — Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican running mate of Senator John McCain, in 2008. The McCain-Palin ticket lost to the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket that year. What’s interesting is that Hillary Clinton ran against Obama in the Democratic primaries as a presidential candidate.

The Mondale-Ferraro ticket was doomed from the very start. Ferraro became a target of the male-dominated presidential politics that put her down as unworthy of the office, which was just a “heartbeat away” from the presidency. Can you imagine a woman becoming the president should the president die in office? Many Americans weren’t comfortable with the idea of a “Madame President.” Clearly, the time had not arrived yet for women in presidential politics.

Fast forward to 2020. Once again, the Democratic Party chose a woman for candidate for vice president. Gee! Haven’t they learned a lesson from the Ferraro and Palin political debacles? This time around, the Democrats fielded an African-South Asian as vice presidential candidate. That’s a double whammy!

Year of the woman
But times have changed. This is the 21st century and Sen. Kamala Harris led the assault on the male-dominated presidential politics. Harris was elected vice president together with presidential candidate Joe Biden. Harris brought with her an experience in law enforcement having been a former Attorney General of California before she was elected senator. She has a persona that fits the office of vice president – ready to take charge should the president is incapacitated.

Joe Biden in a move that defied conventional politics nominated a diverse retinue of cabinet members that included women and people of color. Things are moving rapidly in the direction of bringing to the top echelon of the administration women and people of color.

Chief among them is Janet Yellen, the President-elect’s choice to head the Treasury Department. Already the first woman to have chaired the Federal Reserve, Yellen would carry the same distinction if the Senate confirms her as Biden’s Treasury secretary.

Biden is also set to nominate Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo to serve under Yellen as the deputy Treasury secretary. If confirmed, Adeyemo, of Nigerian descent and the current president of the Obama Foundation in Chicago, would be the first Black person to hold that powerful position.

Biden is also planning to name Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Currently the chief executive of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and a former top aide to Hillary Clinton, Tanden, who is of South Asian descent, would be the first woman of color to oversee the agency. In tapping Tanden, Biden risked grumbles from some in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, with whom she has sparred — mostly over Twitter, where she is an active combatant — over the past four years. And for some reason she has rubbed some Republican senators the wrong way. They vowed to block her Senate confirmation.

The selection of Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton economist, to lead the Council of Economic Advisers, is less likely to set off fireworks on social media, but it is a historical marker just the same. Rouse will become the first woman of color to chair the council.

Biden nominated an all-women communications team while Harris nominated all women to the top senior positions in her staff, including the chief-of-staff, Tina Flournoy, who is African-American. Flournoy also served as chief-of-staff to President Bill Clinton.

Rohini Kosoglu, a former chief of staff in Harris’ Senate office who became a top advisor to her during the Biden presidential campaign, will serve as her domestic policy advisor. Kosoglu is of South Asian descent.

Also nominated were Symone Sanders and Ashley Etienne as Harris’ press secretary and chief spokesperson, respectively. They are both African-Americans.

Nancy McEldowney, a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and 30-year U.S. Foreign Service veteran, will be Harris’ national security advisor. McEldowney is Caucasian.

As Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, a group advocating for women of color in politics, has said, “It’s time to have a women-of-color agenda, where we’re defining the priorities of the country.”

Seasoned and experienced
One thing is common to all those nominated to the serve in the Biden administration, they’re all seasoned and experienced professionals who have served other Democratic officeholders. Nobody can say that they were nominated because they’re women and people of color. They were nominated because they were the brightest and the finest, who happen to be women and people of color.

“Together with the rest of my team, today’s appointees will work to get this virus under control, open our economy responsibly and make sure it lifts up all Americans, and restore and advance our country’s leadership around the world,” Harris said in a statement.

So far, the appointment of women and people of color brought diversity for the first time in U.S. history. Biden has repeatedly promised to build a government that “looks like America.” However, Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who was instrumental in getting Black support for Biden’s presidential bid during the primaries and a close ally of Biden, said that the president-elect has fallen short in nominating Black figures to top positions in the administration. Take it easy Rep. Clyburn, there is still a number of cabinet positions to be filled. Subsequent appointments have included blacks, Latinos and women.

As the incoming administration is taking shape, the outgoing Trump administration is made up of largely White and male group during his nearly four years in office. There was only one black appointee in his cabinet. Biden has appointed a large number of Obama appointees, which seems to signal the continuity of the Obama administration. But they are experienced with a high degree of qualifications to their new positions.

The new appointees don’t seem to carry excess baggage. None have any known character issue. And their experience and background fits the positions they are appointed to.

Among the group of incoming communications aides is Jen Psaki, who was Obama’s White House communications director and will assume the public-facing role of White House press secretary, and Kate Bedingfield, who served as deputy campaign manager and communications director on the Biden campaign, comes aboard as the White House’s top communications aide.

In addition to Psaki and Bedingfield, Biden also announced that Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser on the Biden campaign who later served as chief of staff to Harris, will serve as principal deputy press secretary.

Jean-Pierre is a progressive favorite and former chief public affairs officer at MoveOn.org, the liberal activist hub. Also, Symone Sanders, who was a senior adviser on Biden’s campaign in 2020 after serving as a national press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, will join the White House as a senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Jean-Pierre and Sanders are Blacks.

Biden also announced several others, including Avril Haines, the first woman to lead the U.S. intelligence community, and Alejandro Mayorkas, who would be the first Latino and immigrant to head the Department of Homeland Security. Mayorkas is the son of Cuban immigrants.

There are still a lot of appointments to be made. However, there seems to be an absence of nominees of Asian descent. While it is a concern at this point, I hope that Biden would fill some positions with Asian Americans and Native Americans. There were talks of a Native American being considered for Secretary of the Interior, which would be the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, why don’t we give Biden the latitude he needs to select the people he is nominating or appointing to form the backbone of the Biden presidency. So far, his picks speak a lot for what his presidency would look like. Right now, I give Biden a high mark for building his administration better than any other president in U.S. history. The many firsts speak for themselves.

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