Biden should name a 'team of colleagues'

Biden should name a 'team of colleagues'
© Getty Images

When Abraham Lincoln entered the presidency in 1860 — elected by just 40 percent of voters — the country was literally breaking apart, and Lincoln wasn’t any too popular even within his own nascent party. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has written, he built consensus (and kept track of his critics) by assembling a “team of rivals” to manage the country through its greatest crisis.

Now, in a time of another national crisis, we are approaching another presidential election. Unlike Lincoln, Joe BidenJoe BidenDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Teachers face off against Trump on school reopenings Biden wins Puerto Rico primary MORE seems largely free from mischievous attacks by party rivals. But he does face one crucial decision that could intensify factional division: the selection of a vice presidential running mate.

There are a number of sound choices among the women Biden will consider: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenIn politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over Trump defends Roger Stone move: He was target of 'Witch Hunt' Democrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' MORE (D-Mass), Stacey Abrams (D-Ga.), Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Senators raise concerns over Facebook's civil rights audit Biden's marijuana plan is out of step with public opinion MORE (D-Calif.), Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsSusan Rice sees stock rise in Biden VP race Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP Democrats seize on Florida pandemic response ahead of general election MORE (D-Fla.), Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamGovernors urge Pence to promote mask-wearing Warren top choice for VP for some Black progressives Poll finds Warren most popular Biden VP choice among college students MORE (D-N.M.) or Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response State election officials warn budget cuts could lead to November chaos Biden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street MORE (D-Minn.). Each would have particular appeal to a faction or region that might feel deeply aggrieved by another selection. But just because their names don’t join Biden’s on the bumper sticker doesn’t mean this reserve of talented people — and other knowledgeable and respected leaders — cannot be enlisted to prepare for a new administration. In fact, they should be.


When he discloses his vice presidential selection, Biden also should tell a more expansive story by naming not a team of rivals but a “team of colleagues” to help bring the country back from a multiplicity of crises.

Biden has three months to go before his nomination, another two months before the election, and then three more months between Election Day and Inauguration Day. During those months, if he wins, Biden will be focusing both on building out his administration through crucial Cabinet selections and other key appointments who cannot take office until after Senate confirmation.

In the interim, he should designate key leaders (please, not “czars”) who would work with congressional leaders (don’t leave them out!) and others to develop implementation plans for the most urgent challenges he would face on Jan. 20, 2021:

  • COVID-19 policy (testing, tracking, treatment, vaccine development, aid to states and hospitals, improved coordination with international health organizations);
  • economic recovery (re-employment assistance, unemployment, health and food programs, child care, mortgage and loan forgiveness to prevent homelessness and bankruptcy, low-interest loans with payback forgiveness for small businesses); 
  • employment initiatives (financial support for teachers, child care workers, first responders, service employees, infrastructure investment);
  • assistance to state and local communities;
  • recovery support for small businesses and family farms;
  • budget discipline and deficit reduction, including areas for fair spending reduction, tax law changes to promote growth and tax equity, even potential entitlement reform to reduce indebtedness and crushing interest costs).

Biden should not name an overall recovery manager: That would be his job and that of his vice president, whoever she is. But parceling out high-visibility responsibilities on an interim basis, until the administration is formally in place, would enable Biden to bring the party together and boost public confidence in his governing vision. By enlisting the talents of a diverse group of leaders, Biden would demonstrate the leadership and management skills this nation, and the world, so desperately need.

This “team of colleagues” could be picked from former presidential rivals, sitting members of Congress or governors, retired legislators, leaders in the business, academic, labor and other communities, and scientific and medical experts. These appointments would serve the goals of frontloading an action agenda and engaging diverse leaders while reducing the obsessive focus on who won and who lost in the vice presidential selection.


Empowering such a talent pool now, instead of waiting for the election, also would allow Biden to draw a sharp contrast with the incompetents, myrmidons and bumblers who people the chaotic masquerade known as the Trump presidency.

If ever there was a time for the best and the brightest to be recruited to public service, this is it.

True, there are always liabilities in appointments; the choices are second-guessed, embarrassing personal or ethical issues can emerge, and those who are not selected are mightily insulted. Those concerns would argue for selecting people who have been vetted for high public office already. But such risks are far lower than enduring weeks of infighting and ego-soothing after a VP candidate is selected, let alone sitting around and doing nothing, hoping things get better. We already have an administration that is expert at that.

John A. Lawrence, former chief of staff to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBattle over reopening schools heats up Pelosi: Trump wearing a mask is 'an admission' that it can stop spread of coronavirus Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to reopening schools MORE, is the author of “The Class of ’74: Congress After Watergate and the Roots of Partisanship” and a visiting professor at the University of California’s Washington Center. Follow him on Twittter @JohnALawrenceDC.