January 25, 2021

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Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet

Several House Democrats are in the running for positions in President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet as he seeks to prioritize diversity and policy acumen in his incoming administration.



Marcia Fudge, Karen Bass are posing for a picture: Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet


© Greg Nash
Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet

The contenders hailing from the House range from the potential first Native American Cabinet secretary to numerous members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

At least one current House member, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), is slated to join the White House as a senior advisor and director of the Office of Public Engagement.

After losing several House seats in this year’s elections, Democrats are wary of any potentially costly special elections and are keen to limit any vacancies to safely blue districts.

Biden on Monday unveiled his first round of Cabinet nominees for his national security team, including Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of State; Alejandro Mayorkas to serve as Homeland Security secretary; Avril Haines to be director of national intelligence; Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Jake Sullivan as national security advisor. More are expected in the coming days.

Here are five House Democrats currently being floated for additional roles in the Biden administration.

Deb Haaland (N.M.)

No House lawmaker has more momentum to land a spot in a Biden Cabinet right now than Haaland. If selected, she would make history as the first Native American in a presidential Cabinet.

Grassroots progressive groups like Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement have been aggressively lobbying Biden to pick her as his Interior secretary. And House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) dropped out of consideration for the Interior post and threw his support behind Haaland, his committee’s vice chair.

The well-respected chairman and progressive leader last week circulated a letter among his House colleagues urging Biden to tap Haaland at Interior. More than 50 Democrats signed on, including incoming Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-Mass.); Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), a top Democratic party official; and a handful of Black Caucus and Hispanic Caucus members.

Haaland’s allies have been playing up the historic nature of her potential appointment. In 2018, Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, was one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress. If Biden nominates her for Interior, she will make history once again.

“Representative Deb Haaland is eminently qualified to be Interior Secretary. She has been a champion for our environment and public lands and has worked tirelessly to improve the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and Indian tribes,” Halaand’s Democratic colleagues wrote. “By selecting her to be your Secretary of the Interior, you can make history by giving Native Americans a seat at the Cabinet table for the first time.”

Haaland, a former New Mexico Democratic Party chair, has already been on Biden’s radar. Transition officials are already in the process of vetting her, sources told The Hill.

Other lawmakers under consideration for Interior include two other New Mexico Democrats: retiring Sen. Tom Udall, whose father was Interior secretary in the 1960s, and Sen. Martin Heinrich.

Marcia Fudge (Ohio)

Fudge, a former CBC chairwoman, has been floated as a potential candidate for Agriculture secretary. She is currently the fourth most-senior member of the House Agriculture Committee and chairs a subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations with jurisdiction over programs to combat hunger like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Fudge has openly expressed interest in leading the Agriculture Department and, if selected, would be the first Black woman to serve in the role.

“If Rep. Fudge is asked to serve as Agriculture Secretary she would be honored to do so,” a Fudge spokesperson told The Hill.

To date, only one Black person – Mike Espy, who recently ran for Senate in Mississippi – has served as Agriculture secretary in the department’s history.

Other Democrats in the mix for the Agriculture post include Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine) and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.).

Donna Shalala (Fla.)

Shalala is out of a job following her surprise loss this month to Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a former television anchor.

That’s why Shalala, who served as Health and Human Services secretary under President Clinton for eight years, has been mentioned as a potential Biden Cabinet pick in recent days. Some have floated her for Education secretary, given her 14 years as president of the University of Miami (Florida) after her stint with Clinton.

It’s unclear how serious the Biden transition team is taking Shalala, who is 79. Biden himself turned 78 on Friday, and will become the oldest president on Inauguration Day; and he’s expected to look to a younger generation of leaders to fill out his team.

“I would suspect it’s far-fetched. Why not nominate a much younger person for all the obvious reasons?” said one of Shalala’s House colleagues.

Still, Shalala would bring much-needed healthcare and management experience to the new administration at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on K-12 schools and universities across the nation. While she hasn’t ruled out a bid for her old House seat in 2022, Shalala, who has known Biden for decades, also could be tapped for some senior role on Biden’s coronavirus task force.

“She’s enormously qualified and we’d be lucky to have her in any capacity but especially in healthcare and education, where she’s been a leader,” said a source close to Shalala.

Other House members floated for Education secretary include another Florida Democrat, Rep. Frederica Wilson, a former elementary school principal and Miami-Dade County school board member; and Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. Both are Black Caucus members.

Hayes told The Hill that she’s “honored” to be considered for secretary but that she has “a lot more work to do here” in Congress.

Karen Bass (Calif.)

Bass’s profile shot up this year as chairwoman of the CBC while leading House Democrats’ efforts to pass a police reform bill. Her prospects for higher office are also rising.

Bass has been floated for multiple roles in a Biden administration, including Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She’s also in the mix to fill a soon-to-be-vacant California Senate seat once Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) becomes vice president.

A spokesperson for Bass didn’t return a request for comment. But Bass, a former Speaker of the California state assembly who once worked as a physician assistant, was previously vetted this summer as a potential vice presidential candidate. That role ultimately went to Harris, but the Biden team is already familiar with Bass’s resume.

Other prospects for HHS include New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, while potential candidates for Housing and Urban Development range from Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to Diane Yentel, the CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Andy Levin (Mich.)

Progressives and numerous labor unions have been pushing for Levin as one of their top picks for Labor Secretary.

Levin, who was first elected to the House in 2018, is less well-known or as controversial as other top progressives floated for the role like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Levin has deep ties to organized labor. His lengthy resume includes serving as assistant director of organizing at the AFL-CIO; a staff attorney to the Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations; running Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind program to provide job training for unemployed and under-employed people during the Great Recession; and briefly working as acting director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

Levin is also the heir to one of Michigan’s Democratic political dynasties. He is the son of former Rep. Sander Levin, the former top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as the nephew of former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin.

A Levin spokesperson said that he is “preparing with excitement” for the next session of Congress that begins in January and declined to comment on any conversations with the Biden transition team.

Aside from Sanders, other prospective candidates for Labor Secretary include Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and California Labor Secretary Julie Su.

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