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What Biden’s staff says about his presidency

Early Returns

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With President-elect Joe Biden rolling out his White House staff and cabinet nominees, here are a few notes on what the picks suggest about his administration.

First of all, it's not surprising at this point, but we're headed for another partisan presidency. Every pick announced so far would count, in my loose categorization, as a Democratic party actor; these are folks who have worked for multiple Democrats over the years and don't work for Republicans. Once upon a time it didn't work that way. In the 1960s, plenty of neutral experts who worked for politicians from both parties held important White House posts. Presidents from that era also tended to have a core group of staffers who were personally loyal to them but had no other connections to the party. President Donald Trump had a few from that latter group (Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner). But while Biden has picked a fair number of people with longstanding ties to him, including incoming Chief of Staff Ron Klain, there doesn't appear to be any Delaware mafia dominating this team.

Second, ethnic and gender diversity are central to the incoming administration. That's again more of a party thing than a Biden thing, although one of Biden's talents is finding the party's mainstream no matter how it changes. So now, when an ethnically diverse group of women have provided the energy within the party for the past four years, it's no surprise that Team Biden is going to lean in that direction. Don't think of this as Biden giving women anything; this is simply who the Democratic Party is right now, and representation for party groups is a constant theme from George Washington through Donald Trump.

Finally, the rollout so far has been well managed, something everyone has expected from an experienced candidate and a party ready for the White House. The one choice who is drawing attacks from multiple places (and defenses, too) is Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden is interesting because she doesn't fit the lowering-the-temperature style that Biden has adopted. She's also strongly associated with Hillary Clinton, the 2016 nominee. I have no idea whether she'll wind up serving. And the truth is, a failed nominee here or there doesn't matter at all to public opinion, and doesn't necessarily harm the president's reputation in Washington. But I'd say that overall the pick speaks well of Biden: He's not afraid of a bit of controversy, and he's reaching for the middle of the party and its important groups and players. 

1. Rick Hasen on Republicans who have stood up for democracy.

2. Andrew Flores, Gabriele Magni and Andrew Reynolds at the Monkey Cage on LGBT voters in 2020.

3. Catherine Rampell on Trump's new "Schedule F" designation for civil-service workers.

4. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Tim Duy on the economic outlook for 2021.

5. And Philip Klein on what voters have given us. I'd caution against interpreting the results as a deliberate decision by voters, either collectively or individually, but he's right about the constraints that the Biden administration and the new Congress will be working under.

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