What a Biden administration should look like

What a Biden administration should look like
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I think Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE will be president next Jan. 20, though the next few weeks could be ugly.

If I’m right, his crucial initial task will be tapping the best people for the most prominent posts, as Washington faces the greatest challenges since World War II.

We can expect a Biden administration, as promised, to be the most diverse in history. There’d be roles for Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members Hillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE-Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus MORE people, important political supporters and campaign aides. There is even talk of a few prominent Republicans, which is dicier than before. One mentioned is former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeProfiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers McSally concedes Arizona Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare front and center; transition standoff continues MORE, a principled Arizona anti-Trump conservative, one of the most admirable people in public life — but other than maybe a major immigration post, he would be out of sync with a Biden government.


What matters most when facing domestic and foreign crises is who the president surrounds himself with in the major posts: State, Defense, Treasury, Attorney General and the very top White House staff.

I haven't talked to anyone close to Biden about who would be chosen, so this isn't an insider preview; rather, it’s about suitable choices — I have talked with a number of former top officials, who understand the urgency and stress there simply isn’t the luxury for on-the-job training. 

On national security, China poses the greatest threat, though hardly the only one — and even more than correcting the Trump administration's blatant failures is to fashion a coherent new realistic global strategy.

The most-cited Secretary of State contender is Susan Rice, President Obama's national security adviser and a finalist for Joe Biden's running mate. Much of the Democrats' foreign policy establishment would favor a candidate more like one of the Burns boys, Bill and Nick, former Deputy and Under Secretaries of State.

An outside-the-box, superb selection would be Delaware Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Biden rolls out national security team Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE, one of the most knowledgeable members of the Senate who enjoys good relations with some Republicans and is close to Biden.


The most accepted consensus, which is sometimes right, is the likely Defense Secretary will be Michele Flournoy, who was under secretary at the Pentagon in the first Obama administration. If that falls through, a good alternative would be Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security chief under Obama.

For Treasury, the chatter is about Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor and former top Treasury official, and Roger Ferguson, who was vice chair of the Fed, a Democrat who won the admiration of Alan Greenspan.

A terrific, if unlikely, choice for Treasury would be Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mary Mathews BurwellWhat a Biden administration should look like Bogeymen of the far left deserve a place in any Biden administration The swamp wasn't drained — it expanded MORE, spectacularly successful as Secretary of Health and Human Services, as director of the Office of Management and Budget, as a leading foundation executive, former chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin and now president of American University. When in government, and the last several years behind the scenes, no one has been more responsible for saving the Affordable Health Care Act, commanding respect from Republicans as well as Democrats.

This would be the most sensitive Attorney General appointment since President Ford chose Chicago Law School Dean Edward Levi after Watergate. Current polices need to be reversed. Morale at the Justice Department is dreadful. Most daunting will be the issue of whether to criminally prosecute Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE and associates. The next AG has to be tough, above reproach ethically and ideally not seen as a political partisan.

That eliminates one named tossed around: New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoNew York City to add COVID-19 checkpoints at bridges, crossings Don't let 'experts' ruin your Thanksgiving Cuomo reverses on in-person Thanksgiving plans with family MORE. Two still in play are Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Women set to take key roles in Biden administration Merrick Garland on list to be Biden's attorney general: report MORE, former deputy Attorney General, and Preet BhararaPreetinder (Preet) Singh BhararaWhat a Biden administration should look like Democratic attorneys criticize House Judiciary Democrats' questioning of Barr Clyburn echoes calls to rename Pettus bridge MORE, who was the U.S. Attorney in New York's Southern District. Both were fired by Trump, a badge of honor, except it could raise unfair questions about motive in any actions against a former president.

Two that should be seriously considered: Seth Waxman, former Solicitor General and acting deputy AG in the Clinton administration; there is no more respected lawyer in Washington. Also U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandMcConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report Feinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks MORE, who was cheated out of a Supreme Court seat by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE; Garland ran the criminal division during the Clinton administration.

Czars were overused by Obama, but an immediate priority for a Biden Administration -- he plans to get a jump  start before taking over --  will be a COVID czar, perhaps co-czars with a take-charge figure like retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and health expert Nancy-Ann DeParle. Longer term, there should be a global climate change czar: Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden's great challenge: Build an economy for long-term prosperity and security The secret weapon in Biden's fight against climate change Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE  and or John Podesta would be perfect.

Almost a sine qua non of presidential success is the right White House chief of staff and the very top counselors.

The longtime Biden aide and former top White House aide Ron Klain is seen as a lock for chief of staff. He'd be better as the influential senior counselor — like Obama's David AxelrodDavid AxelrodBiden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team Biden rolls out national security team What a Biden administration should look like MORE or, with apologies, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerPompeo becomes first top US diplomat to visit Israeli settlement, labels boycotts anti-Semitic NYT's Bruni suggests Ivanka Trump, Kushner move to North Korea or Saudi Arabia With Biden, a Saudi reboot MORE. Jeff Zients, with political and managerial skills, would be an excellent chief of staff. Throw in a troika with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete Buttigieg'Biff is president': Michael J. Fox says Trump has played on 'every worst instinct in mankind' Buttigieg: Denying Biden intelligence briefings is about protecting Trump's 'ego' Biden's win is not a policy mandate — he should govern accordingly MORE, the Democrats' best communicator.

This list is establishment dominated because of the tough times. It’s also too male. The Democrats, however, have an incredibly strong female bench from Congress, the states, political and policy experts. They will play a big role in shaping the next administration. 

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.