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Students, faculty analyze what Biden’s cabinet means for America

Pandemic, climate change high priorities for both president-elect and Brown community members

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 2021

University student groups and faculty reflect on President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet, which the Senate began confirming Tuesday.

The Senate began confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet Jan. 19, ushering in the new Biden administration and a cabinet set to be the most diverse in American history.

Half of the 26 nominees to the cabinet are people of color and 12 are women. The Biden administration is set to move away from the policies of the Trump era, particularly related to initiatives on climate change, and focus on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Herald spoke with members of the Brown political community about their perspectives on the cabinet.

“Obviously nothing is going to move forward in a political way until the pandemic gets under control,” Professor of International Relations Rose McDermott said. The cabinet “needs to have a national strategy around vaccine rollout if they’re going to have a shot of getting control of this, and I really hope that (Biden) puts competent people into place to do that.” 

More than 400,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer a beacon of hope in the fight against the disease, but only 39 percent of available vaccines have been administered.

Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen ’67 told the Senate in her confirmation hearing Jan. 19 that she would push Congress to “act big” to financially assist Americans in fighting the economic effects of the pandemic. 

McDermott said she is grateful that Biden is nominating “smart and competent” officials with experience, and cited the lack of “continuity and institutional memory” that resulted from frequent turnaround of cabinet officials as a weakness of the Trump administration. 

Vice President of Brown College Democrats Morgan Awner ’21 said that although she is pleased with how diverse and qualified the cabinet is, she worries that the Biden administration will “go back to business as usual.” 

“This administration needs to uphold the democratic policies” that Biden ran on during the election, Awner said, specifically noting health care and the minimum wage among other policies.

“Biden is really trying to make this argument for unity, which obviously we can use right now,” Awner said. But she cautioned against focusing entirely on unity and “toeing the line and not making any big waves.”  

Jessica McDonald ’21, president of Brown Republicans, said she would have liked to see cabinet nominations from “the other side of the political aisle” to promote bipartisan unity within the Biden administration. Though the president-elect was rumored last fall to be considering Republicans for cabinet positions, none were nominated.

Beyond tackling the pandemic and pushing to “restore the soul of America,” the new cabinet aims to make fighting climate change a priority. The president-elect has created a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, a new position, to handle environmental policy. The role will be filled by former Secretary of State John Kerry P’96. 

“I personally was very pleased to see the extent to which he had a whole team devoted to climate,” McDermott said, adding that she considers Biden’s commitment to rejoin the Paris climate accords on Inauguration Day to be particularly auspicious.

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