Joe Biden’s Transition and Cabinet Picks: What Happens Next

Joe Biden’s Transition and Cabinet Picks: What Happens Next

17:35 - President-elect gains access to government resources as he assembles his team

The General Services Administration has ascertained that President-elect Joe Biden was the apparent winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election, marking the start of the formal transition process.

The impact will be felt immediately: Mr. Biden’s team now has access to the resources of the federal government, including cybersecurity assistance, FBI background checks for prospective nominees, access to departments and agencies and the ability to see classified information, and more intelligence sharing.

Here’s what is expected to happen next as Mr. Biden inches closer to taking the oath of office on Jan. 20.

What does the transition team do to get ready to take over the executive branch?

The GSA’s announcement allows the Biden team access to all the federal government’s departments and agencies. Mr. Biden has teams of people, divided by policy area, who will meet with designated agency and departmental officials to get them up to speed.

The work is particularly important in areas where the Biden administration can’t afford to miss a beat once it takes over, such as the coronavirus-vaccine development and distribution effort. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday he would be sharing materials with the Biden team immediately.

A smooth transition depends in part on how much an outgoing administration decides to cooperate with the incoming team. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, in a memo Monday, warned staff not to speak with the Biden team unless they have been explicitly designated as a point of contact, but he said the White House would “ensure a smooth transfer of power.”

How is Mr. Biden choosing members of his administration?

The transition’s policy-area teams are vetting possible nominees for cabinet posts that require Senate confirmation as well as other appointments that don’t require lawmakers’ support. A good deal of backchanneling and lobbying typically goes on now, when potential nominees leverage their experience and networks to get face time with the transition team and advocate for themselves or others.

In his early picks, Mr. Biden is leaning on people who have extensive government experience and, in many cases, a history of working with him. But for lower-level jobs, applicants are invited to submit applications and resumes on the transition team’s website, buildbackbetter.gov. That was a dot-com address until Monday, when the GSA granted Mr. Biden access to the dot-gov web domain.

Who has Mr. Biden picked so far?

His selections include nominating Alejandro Mayorkas as homeland security secretary, Antony Blinken as secretary of state and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence. He plans to nominate Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary.

Who stays on from the Trump administration?

Not all of President Trump’s political appointees will be out the door on Jan. 20. Political appointees at executive departments—such as State, Treasury and Defense—typically depart, but appointees at regulatory agencies are more insulated and can stay in office for the duration of the term designated by the Senate when they were confirmed.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton will be stepping down at the end of this year to make way for a Biden appointee. But other Senate-confirmed members of the SEC and other agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the Federal Election Commission are under no obligation to leave office, especially because many agencies are set up as commissions split between Democratic and Republican members.

When do the confirmation hearings for Mr. Biden’s cabinet nominees start?

Some of the confirmation hearings are expected to begin while Mr. Trump is still president, allowing Mr. Biden to start with some of his team installed on his first day in office. Most recent presidents began their terms with at least a couple of confirmed cabinet members. Mr. Trump began his term with confirmed defense and homeland security secretaries, both approved with votes on Inauguration Day.

President Barack Obama had six cabinet members approved on Inauguration Day, while President George W. Bush had seven. It can take months for the full cabinet to be filled, however: Mr. Trump didn’t have his full initial cabinet approved until April 2017.

Rocky confirmation hearings or scandals can also delay the process. Mr. Obama needed to nominate three different commerce secretaries before one was confirmed, while Mr. Trump had his first pick for labor secretary drop out.

What about other Senate-confirmed positions, such as the Federal Reserve chairman or FBI director?

Many of Mr. Trump’s most important hires are unaffected by the transition to a new administration. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell can be fired only for cause and is virtually guaranteed to stay on until at least the end of his term in 2022. Federal Bureau of Investigation directors are appointed to 10-year terms to distance them from political winds, but Mr. Trump’s firing of then-Director James Comey in May 2017 broke with that precedent. Mr. Biden hasn’t said whether he wants to keep current Director Christopher Wrayin the post.

Federal judges, perhaps Mr. Trump’s most lasting legacy, are appointed for life in most cases.

The many minor boards and commissions that make up far-flung reaches of the federal government also will retain their current makeup in most cases, and Mr. Biden will fill those positions as they become vacant.

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