Biden insists his presidency is not a third Obama term; his staff picks suggest otherwise

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden isn't the only member of his administration who remembers how things were done in the last Democratic White House.

About three-quarters of his top 100 aides previously worked in President Barack Obama's administration, according to a new analysis that also shows a majority of key staff are women and nearly 40% are non-white or Hispanic.

That's despite the fact that Biden has insisted his White House is not an extension of Obama's.

“This is not a third Obama term. We face a totally different world than we faced in the Obama-Biden administration,” Biden said during his first sit-down interview after the November election.

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While prior White House experience is not uncommon for aides, the high number of top staff who served in the last Democratic administration is striking, said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center who compiled the statistics.

"I think it shows that Biden really places an emphasis on prior experience," she said, "because if you talk to people who have worked in the White House, they will tell you that it's unlike any job they've ever had, that really nothing can prepare you for it, except for having worked in the White House before."

Stark contrast with Trump administration staffing

It's also a sharp departure from the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump lost a lot of time in the crucial early days of his presidency, Tenpas said, because he was slow to choose aides and because he appointed many people without government experience.

"His predilection was for the private sector," she said. "He really kind of threw off course this idea that presidents typically hire from prior administrations. In fact, he showed public disdain for the (President George W.) Bush people."

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By contrast, Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, was his top aide when Biden was Obama's vice president. (Klain was also chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration.)

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White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield wait for President Joe Biden to deliver remarks on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield wait for President Joe Biden to deliver remarks on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.

The lessons learned by the Obama administration seem to be guiding Biden's team in some crucial areas.

Democrats’ belief that there would have been a faster recovery from the Great Recession if there had been a bigger stimulus package in 2009 influenced the March passage of their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

And, as Biden tries to see if he can negotiate a compromise with Republicans on an infrastructure package, White House aides are mindful of the months Obama spent seeking elusive support from Republicans for his health care overhaul.

Tenpas, an expert on presidential transitions and staffing, focused her research on the 100 key staff positions in the executive office of the president that were announced during Biden's first 100 days.

Notably, there are two top positions he hasn't filled. Biden is still looking for a budget direct after his first choose, Neera Tanden, lacked sufficient support for Senate confirmation. (She was later made a senior adviser to the president.)

Biden also hasn't named an administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Diversity in the White House

Among the top 100 positions filled in the first 100 days, Tenpas found:

  • 78 have an advanced degree.

  • 77 worked in a previous administration and 74 worked in the Obama administration.

  • 62 worked on the Biden campaign or the transition.

  • 61 are white; 15 are black; 12 are Asian and 11 are Hispanic.

  • 57 are women; 43 are men.

The average age is 46.

Tenpas does not have a direct comparison of similar statistics for past administrations. But studies she's done of smaller sets of top aides for past presidents indicate Biden's team stands out for the share of women in top jobs and for racial diversity.

"It's just a much more diverse White House staff that seems to value racial, ethnic diversity as well as putting women in roles," she said. "This is further evidence that (Biden) is fulfilling that (campaign) pledge to create an administration that is more diverse."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Most of Biden's top White House staff worked for Obama and are female

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