President-elect Joe Biden is on course to lag behind his recent predecessors who had Cabinet nominees confirmed on the day of inauguration, causing concern that Biden’s administration could be hampered in its early efforts to face immediate security, health and economic challenges.
Biden’s transition team is beginning a new messaging push to urge Republican senators to swiftly confirm national security nominees – positions helming the Pentagon and the State, Homeland Security and other key departments – with Biden set to take office in eight days, a source familiar with the plans told CNN. Politico was the first to report the Biden team’s effort.
Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick for Homeland Security secretary, is a top priority in their push, the source said. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced Tuesday afternoon that it would hold a confirmation hearing for Mayorkas on January 19.
That push is getting a boost from Senate Democrats, including top Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York, who told colleagues in a letter Tuesday that the riots at the US Capitol fueled by President Donald Trump last week and the economic costs brought on by the coronavirus pandemic make it particularly important for Biden’s Cabinet to be in place quickly.
“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, including Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and others. The economic challenges our nation faces also require having key economic nominees confirmed and on the job ASAP,” Schumer wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had promised to give Biden’s nominees votes, but had not committed to a timetable to do so. Democrats, though, will take the Senate majority as soon as Biden is inaugurated, thanks to wins in two Georgia US Senate runoffs last week and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ position as the tie-breaking vote in a 50-50 Senate. That could allow a Democratic-led Senate to move much faster on Biden’s nominees.
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, who will soon resign his House seat for a job in Biden’s White House, on CNN Tuesday lambasted Senate Republicans for failing to hold hearings for Mayorkas and other national security nominees, as has been done for previous administrations.
“Almost every Homeland Security secretary has been confirmed on the first day, and that was in 2009 and 2017,” Richmond said. “So the fact that the Senate is not holding a hearing so we can confirm our national security members on day one is irresponsible to the American public.”
Biden intends to install acting agency heads at Cabinet departments when he takes office next week, a source familiar with the plans said.
The source said the President-elect will name career officials to serve as the interim heads at most of the Cabinet departments while the confirmation process plays out. Biden’s team, through its agency review teams and other consultations, has identified career officials who have served at these departments to take the helm in an acting manner.
They are also planning to name chiefs of staff and other senior political appointees not requiring Senate confirmation that can begin working at these departments on the first day of the Biden administration, the source said.
Last week’s deadly insurrection at the Capitol has heightened attention over security issues, leading Biden’s team and allies in Congress to start pushing for Cabinet confirmations to ensure there are no gaps when Biden takes office on January 20.
“We are in a pandemic, economic crisis, and facing serious security threats – people can’t afford to wait,” the source familiar with Biden’s plans said.
Other national security top spots the transition is seeking swift confirmation for are Lloyd Austin, whose nomination for defense secretary requires a congressional waiver, and Tony Blinken as secretary of state, along with Janet Yellen as treasury secretary.
“It’s my expectation and hope that the Senate will move to confirm these nominees promptly and fairly. It’s especially the case for the nominees secretary of state, defense, treasury, Homeland Security,” Biden said as he introduced another round of picks for economic posts last week.
“Given what our country’s been through the last four years, the last few days, given the threats and the risks of this world, they should be confirmed as close to January 20 as possible,” he said. “There should be no vacancies at state, defense, treasury and Homeland Security.”
With Congress now focused on a second impeachment of Trump, Biden expressed his hope Monday that the Senate would be able to “bifurcate” the process, splitting its time between a possible impeachment trial and confirming his nominees and advancing his agenda.
So far, the only confirmation hearings scheduled for Biden nominees are for Austin, Mayorkas and Yellen, all on January 19.
Trump’s choices for defense and Homeland Security secretaries were both confirmed on January 20, 2017; many other Cabinet nominees were confirmed within the next month.
President Barack Obama retained President George W. Bush’s defense secretary and saw his nominees for secretary of Homeland Security, education, energy, agriculture, interior and veterans affairs confirmed on his Inauguration Day, with others confirmed shortly afterward.
Several Bush Cabinet nominees were confirmed on his Inauguration Day, as well, including his nominees for secretary of defense, state and treasury.
“Regardless of any developments, with our national security at stake, the pandemic costing thousands of lives every day, and our economy in a historic recession, there is absolutely no justification for Republicans to jeopardize the ability of the United States government to keep the American people safe, distribute vaccines, and put Americans back to work,” said Andrew Bates, a Biden transition spokesperson.
“Many of these respected, qualified, crisis-tested nominees were announced in November, many have been previously confirmed, and their paperwork has been submitted. We look forward to continuing to work with both parties in good faith on timely confirmations,” Bates said.
This story has been updated with additional reporting on Biden’s plans.
CNN’s Jessica Dean and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.