Women set to take key roles in Biden administration
President-elect Joe Biden is facing pressure to lean heavily on women as he fills out his Cabinet. So far, he seems intent on delivering.
Biden vowed to put an emphasis on diversity when building his team, and he has already picked women for a series of key positions.
Biden named Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his vice president, a historic choice that made her the first woman, the first Black and the first Indian American vice president-elect.
Biden also has named women to serve as his White House counsel and deputy chief of staff.
Fifty-three percent of Biden-Harris senior transition staff are women and 52 percent of all transition staff are women, according to figures from the transition team. More than half of the 500 people serving on Biden’s government agency review team are women.
“As he did during the campaign to his transition, Joe Biden will be intentional in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges,” a Biden-Harris transition official said in a statement to The Hill.
Several women have been floated for high-level national security positions. They include Avril Haines, a candidate for CIA director or director of national intelligence; Susan Rice, a contender for secretary of State; and Michele Flournoy, a favorite for secretary of Defense.
Biden said in his victory speech that he wanted his administration to “look like and act like” America, signaling he would elevate women to powerful positions in a similar way he did on his campaign.
“He did that with the appointment of Kamala Harris and he’s clearly doing that in who he is picking to be a part of his transition,” said Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
“If the goal at the end of the day is to have an administration that looks like America, having a transition team that looks that way will only make that process easier,” she added.
Many of the women in the mix for top jobs are being considered for national security positions.
Flournoy served as undersecretary of Defense for policy during the Obama administration and also worked at the Pentagon during the Clinton years. If Biden picks her, she would become the first woman to be the Pentagon’s chief.
Haines served as deputy director of the CIA and, later, principal deputy national security adviser under former President Obama. She has taken a leave of absence from her position as deputy director at Columbia University’s Columbia World Projects, and was among a handful of national security experts who briefed Biden on Tuesday as the Trump administration continues to refuse to cooperate with his transition team on the sharing of intelligence and other matters.
Then there is Rice, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser under Obama. Rice was also seen as a contender to be vice president.
Rice was involved in brokering the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, both of which Trump withdrew from and Biden is expected to look to rejoin once he takes office.
Jon Wolfsthal, the former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said many of the candidates for top roles benefit from already having worked with one another.
“They all know each other. They have worked together for many, many years. They are all experienced and respectful,” Wolfsthal said, noting that it would be easy for them to develop a process once the new administration takes hold.
A number of other women are being floated for top roles.
Wendy Sherman, who served as undersecretary of State for political affairs under Obama, has been named as a potential ambassador to the United Nations, while former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, whom Trump fired 10 days into his administration for not signing off on his ban on travel from Muslim-majority nations, has been floated as an attorney general contender.
Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and member of the Federal Reserve board of governors Lael Brainard are both seen as leading candidates for Treasury secretary; Biden said this week he has chosen his nominee without revealing the person’s name.
Biden has already appointed a number of women to senior White House roles, including his campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, who will serve as deputy chief of staff. Julie Rodriguez will serve as the director of intergovernmental affairs. Dana Remus is slated to serve as White House counsel and Annie Tomasini will serve as the director of Oval Office operations.
On Friday, the transition team announced Louisa Terrell will serve as the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, while Cathy Russell will work as director of presidential personnel.
“This will be a refreshing change to see women at the table, to see women of color and people of color who will be part of the decision making process, who will be shaping policy every step of the way,” Walsh said.
The number of women appointed to senior roles in the Biden administration is expected to be an increase from the Trump administration, where white men make up the majority of senior roles.
Three women currently serve in Trump’s Cabinet, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and CIA Director Gina Haspel, who is the first woman to helm the Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump’s White House has had a larger number of women in high-level positions, including two of his top communications aides, Kayleigh McEnany and Alyssa Farah; his domestic policy adviser Brooke Rollins; his senior counselor Hope Hicks; and his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump. Kellyanne Conway, who was Trump’s third campaign manager in 2016 and the first woman to successfully run a U.S. presidential campaign, also worked as a senior counselor in the White House before departing this summer.
Thirty percent of Obama’s first term Cabinet consisted of women, while his second term Cabinet was 35 percent women, according to data from the Center for American Women and Politics. Thirty-two percent of former President Clinton’s first term Cabinet was made up of women, and that number jumped to 41 percent during his second term.
Twenty-six percent of Trump’s Cabinet is made up of women, which is slightly more than former President George W. Bush’s administration, where 19 percent of the Cabinet was made up of women in his first term and 24 percent in his second term.
Biden’s number of female appointments only adds to the growing number of women holding powerful positions in Washington, with a record number of female lawmakers elected to office this past election.
“Every time there is a woman in these high-level leadership positions, it sends a message to girls, young women, and women across this country that they can do that too,” Walsh said.