We are nearly a month away from Joseph R. Biden stepping into the oval office for the first time — as President of the United States. Regardless of political ideology, the spirit of transition is electrifying. In the next four years, there’s no way to predict the ways our country will change, the obstacles we will confront, the milestones we will meet. So many facets of this future, however, are not lying within the hands of Biden, but in those working closely alongside him — those whom he chooses to be a part of his cabinet. Let’s meet two of them.
Secretary of Defense: Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III
Austin, 67, is a former commander of the American military effort in Iraq, and the only African American to have lead the U.S. Central Command before retiring in 2016—and he’ll be the first African American to lead the Defense Department.
Biden and Austin became acquainted during the Obama administration’s Iraq drawdown, where Biden spearheaded Iraq policy and Austin served as the last commanding general of U.S. forces there, according to Politico. Austin played a key role in the surge of forces that began in 2007 and was in charge of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in 2011. In an essay Presiden-Elect Biden wrote for The Atlantic, he states, “Pulling that off took more than just the skill and strategy of a seasoned soldier. It required Austin to practice diplomacy, building relationships with our Iraqi counterparts and with our partners in the region. He served as a statesman, representing our country with honor and dignity and always, above all, looking out for his people.”
The next secretary of defense will be needed immediately in the widespread distribution process of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Biden assures that Austin’s prior experience has prepared him well for this fate, saying that “Austin oversaw the largest logistical operation undertaken by the Army in six decades—the Iraq drawdown….He is the person we need in this moment.”
However, since Austin has not been out of the military for the required seven years and would need a waiver from Congress to officially become the secretary of defense, uncertainty lies ahead—as Austin only retired from the military service four years ago, and the law states that one must have left at least seven years before becoming secretary of defense. According to Politico, lawmakers have signaled their wariness of granting another exception for a retired general to lead the Pentagon just four years after President Trump requested one for his first elected secretary of defense, Jim Mattis. In his letter, Biden urges Congress to accommodate his request: “I hope that Congress will grant a waiver to Secretary-designate Austin, just as Congress did for Secretary Jim Mattis. Given the immense and urgent threats and challenges our nation faces, he should be confirmed swiftly.”
Director of White House Domestic Policy: Susan Rice
Susan Rice, 56, has been chosen by Biden to lead White House Domestic Policy, an appointee that ensures domestic policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s stated goals and monitors implementation of the President’s domestic policy agenda. Politico speculates that Rice will play a prominent role in the execution of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which is composed of several widespread policy proposals addressing American infrastructure and manufacturing, clean energy, caregiving, education, and racial equity.
Rice graduated from Stanford University and continued her education at Oxford University, where she earned her M.Phil and D.Phil in International Relations. She went on to work as an international management consultant at McKinsey & Company in Toronto, before being elected to work at the National Security Council under the Clinton administration, where she became a special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs in 1995. Later in 2008, she served as a senior foreign policy adviser for Obama’s first presidential campaign, and under his administration, she served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2009-2013 and national security adviser from 2013-2017.
Biden considers Rice a “trusted and tested public servant” as well as a “friend,” saying that “she’s going to elevate and turbocharge and revitalize our domestic policy council to help us build back better on every issue across the board.”
However, Rice is accompanied by controversy. In 2017, Rice was forced out of her role as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations after falsely claiming that the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi came about due to a protest against an offensive viral video. The New York Post shares that Rice also lied about her knowledge of an FBI investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The Domestic Policy council role does not require Senate confirmation—this could perhaps be beneficial for this particular nominee of Biden’s, as Republicans are not likely to support Rice’s appointment.
Last Friday during a Wilmington, Delaware press conference—during which Biden revealed his recent cabinet appointments—Rice stated that “Our top priorities will be to help end the pandemic and revitalize the economy so that it delivers for all… while [bringing] humanity to the nation’s “broken immigration system.”