Biden looks to Obama alums for help selecting temporary Cabinet secretaries

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Joe Biden’s transition team is working with its agency review staff and Obama administration alumni to pinpoint federal officials who could be elevated to key administration positions until the president-elect’s nominees are confirmed.

Biden is unlikely to have critical Cabinet secretaries or other senior officials in place by the time he’s sworn in on Jan. 20. So, as a workaround, the president is trying to “identify people of integrity; people who can be solid leaders” who could lead federal agencies between the time Biden is sworn in and Cabinet nominees are confirmed, transition spokesperson T.J. Ducklo said.

And they’ve not ruled out keeping on professionals brought in by President Donald Trump, Ducklo acknowledged.

The intent, Ducklo said, is to “have as many people as possible on Day One so we can minimize any roadblocks that might happen because we’re waiting on permanent confirmation of our Cabinet secretaries.”

Over the last several days, Biden’s team has been combing through government agencies and consulting with former Obama administration officials familiar with the federal bureaucracy and its personnel as they select interim leaders for the various departments.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Biden’s intent to appoint temporary agency heads.

This week, Biden officials and congressional allies have worked behind the scenes to ramp up pressure on Senate Republicans to advance critical national security picks, including those to lead the Homeland Security, State and Department of Defense. Hearings have since been scheduled on Jan. 15 for Avril Haines, Biden’s selection for director of national intelligence, and Jan. 19 for Homeland Security secretary pick Alejandro Mayorkas and State Department pick Antony Blinken. A hearing for Lloyd Austin, Biden’s Defense secretary pick, had already been scheduled for Jan. 19.

The full Senate will still have to vote on the nominees, assuming that they make it through their respective committees.

Biden officials have placed a particular emphasis on Mayorkas, given last week’s deadly Capitol riots and ongoing threats of violence as Biden prepares to assume power.

Though Biden named many of his nominees in November, the confirmation process was delayed as Trump contested the election results and his administration dragged its feet on transition efforts. The Republican-controlled Senate also did not move quickly to schedule confirmation hearings.

But Democrats will soon assume a narrow majority in the chamber thanks to victories in two Georgia Senate runoffs earlier this month. Once she is sworn in, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will become the tie-breaking vote.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a Jan. 12 letter to Democratic senators that he would work to confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees immediately.

“The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th showed us we need qualified Senate-confirmed people (not in an acting capacity) in key national security positions on Day One,” Schumer wrote. “The economic challenges our nation faces also require having key economic nominees confirmed and on the job ASAP.”

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