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President Biden’s Cabinet and Cabinet-level appointments: The first 35 days

February 26, 2021

Presidents face immense challenges upon assuming office. They must learn to oversee a budget of over $5 trillion; manage more than 4 million executive branch employees; get up to speed on more than 100 agencies; make more than 4,000 political appointments (more than 1,200 of which require Senate confirmation); and carry out an expansive policy agenda.  

President Biden faces additional global and national crises on top of these usual challenges. Biden must pass new coronavirus relief legislation, oversee COVID-19 vaccine distribution, enact new climate change policy and address the country’s racial reckoning. 

To meet these urgent needs, the new administration—with help from the Senate—must appoint political leaders to critical Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions across government quickly and efficiently. Here’s a look at President Biden’s appointment record roughly a month into his first term: 

Senate confirmations for President Biden’s Cabinet secretaries and Cabinet-level agency leaders 

President Biden announced 12 Cabinet choices by the end of 2020 and all 15 by Jan. 7. As of February 25, 2021, the Senate has confirmed only eight of his nominees:  

  • Jennifer Granholm, secretary of energy. 
  • Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture. 
  • Denis McDonough, secretary of veterans affairs. 
  • Pete Buttigieg, secretary of transportation. 
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of homeland security. 
  • Antony Blinken, secretary of state. 
  • Janet Yellen, secretary of the treasury. 
  • Lloyd Austin, secretary of defense.  

The Senate also confirmed two of the president’s Cabinet-level nominees: Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and U.S. Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.  

The Senate has been slower in confirming President Biden’s nominations. Most early Cabinet picks are confirmed by the Senate with little opposition. At comparable points early in the presidents’ first terms, the Senate had confirmed all but one of President Clinton’s Cabinet, President George W. Bush’s entire Cabinet, 12 members of President Obama’s Cabinet and nine members of President Trump’s Cabinet

All told, President Biden must appoint 23 nominees to Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions. Ten—including Haines—have been confirmed, 11 have had confirmation hearings, and two are in various early stages of the confirmation process. 

The next 35 days

This past week, the Senate began hearings for several more Cabinet nominees, including: 

  • Merrick Garland for attorney general.  
  • Xavier Becerra for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Debra Anne Haaland for secretary of the Department of the Interior. 

We are also watching several other critical confirmations: 

  • Miguel Cardona for secretary of the Department of Education. 
  • Vivek Murthy for surgeon general of the United States. 

Biden’s nominees are urgently needed to work on pressing national issues, and the Senate should work quickly to confirm these key positions. 

For a detailed list of the administration’s nominees and their statuses, see the Biden Political Appointee Tracker, operated jointly by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post. 

This post is authored by Katie Sun, an intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.