Biden Announces Groundbreaking Picks for Defense, Commerce, Treasury

BREAKING: Joe Biden has selected Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to serve as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. If confirmed, Rep. Fudge would be yet another historic pick. Along with Gen. Austin and HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (a child of Hispanic immigrants), Fudge represents a fulfillment of Biden’s promise to have a Cabinet that “looks like America”.

The New York Times reports that Ms. Fudge has been in the House since winning a special election in 2008. She had been recommended for, and had openly campaigned to become, Mr. Biden’s agriculture secretary, telling The Cleveland Plain Dealer that she would put her experience working on farm bills “against almost anybody’s.”

But Ms. Fudge, a former mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, told reporters after news of her selection at HUD broke that “if I can help this president in any way possible, I am more than happy to do it. It’s a great honor and a privilege to be a part of something so good.”

Ms. Fudge joins a history-making roster. In news conferences over the past few weeks, Mr. Biden has unveiled accomplished and diverse choices.

 On Jan. 8, Biden announced Gina M. Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island, as his pick for commerce secretary. As Biden noted, Raimondo is the first female governor of the “Ocean State”. According to the New York Times, Raimondo has served as governor since 2015. Her tenure was marked by several major blunders — a disastrous rollout for the state’s Health & Human Services website; eight child fatalities in the state’s Dept. of Children, Youth and Families program — but many successes as well.

The Washington Post praised Raimondo’s actions as governor: “Raimondo has cut taxes every year and removed 8,000 pages of regulations — 30 percent of the state’s regulations. Economic dynamism has enabled her to raise the state minimum wage to $11.50, create a sick-leave entitlement and finance the largest infrastructure program in the state’s history. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, her father, the son of a meat cutter, became the first in the family to go to college, and his daughter has delivered tuition-free community college.”

Raimondo also partnered with CVS to deliver one of the nation’s highest COVID-19 testing rates per capita. Her previously low approval ratings have soared. She is seen as a relatively traditional choice for commerce secretary, a post that oversees relations with the business community but also technology regulation, weather monitoring and gathering of economic data.

For Secretary of Labor, Biden chose Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. The son of Irish immigrants, Walsh was born and raised in Dorchester. Biden described Walsh as “tough as nails”: diagnosed with cancer at age 7, he beat it at age 11. Now in his second term as mayor of Boston, Walsh “always put working people first,” Biden says. He added an intriguing note.

“I also want to say I did give serious consideration to naming my friend Bernie Sanders to this position,” Biden said. “I believe he would’ve done a fantastic job…I know of no more passionate, devoted ally to working people in this country,” he continued. However, Biden said that after this Week’s special elections — which gave Democrats control of the Senate — he and Sanders agreed that they couldn’t risk losing a majority. (If Sanders had accepted the Labor Secretary role, he would have to leave his Senate seat in Vermont. That vacancy would require a special election to fill — which Republicans could win, erasing the majority.)

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed another of Biden’s nominees. Janet Yellen will become the first woman ever to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. Yellen previously served as the first female head of the Federal Reserve (2014-2018). She is known as a monetary “dove”, meaning that she values unemployment more than inflation. “Hawks tend to view higher interest rates, slower growth and lower levels of employment as a price worth paying for keeping inflation at bay. Doves take a more lenient view of inflation if it means stronger employment growth,” Reuters explains.

Yellen has made it clear that her priorities are with Americans struggling to get by rather than with investment bankers. “There is a huge amount of suffering out there,” she said in September as she urged Congress to agree a new stimulus package. Yet Yellen’s nomination was still welcomed by Wall Street, the Guardian says, because of her experience. The Senate confirmed her by a vote of 84-15. That’s a sign of her bipartisan appeal, according to the New York Times.

Yellen was sworn in today as the first female Treasury secretary by the first female vice president — Kamala Harris.

Yellen is sworn in by VP Kamala Harris. (Photo by Doug Mills, for the New York Times.)

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