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For the Opposing View, read “Cabinet picks are missed chance for change.”
Biden completed his Cabinet nominations two days after the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob — a tragic and all too appropriate coda to the Trump era. “Boring is the new thrilling,” CNN commentator Van Jones said a few days after Biden won the election. As President Donald Trump incites his supporters to violence and becomes increasingly erratic in his final days, not to mention making history as the first president to be impeached twice, boring is still an elusive goal.
But Biden holds out promise for duller days ahead. And by dull, we mean steady, professional and aligned with American values.
Experience and expertise
It’s hard to overstate the importance of experience and expertise, both in policy areas and in the workings of government, for the team that will confront the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall havoc inflicted by Trump and his administration. Biden’s nominees not only know what they’re doing, some of them have literally done it before.
Agriculture Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General-designate Vivek Murthy held the same jobs in the Obama administration. Biden's secretary of State pick Antony Blinken and secretary of Homeland Security choice Alejandro Mayorkas were deputy secretaries in those departments during the Obama years.
Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, will return to the Justice Department, where he supervised several high-profile cases during the Clinton era. Michael Regan, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, would head the Environmental Protection Agency, where he previously served under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
Some of Biden’s picks have never been part of an administration, but they make sense. Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona, a former public school teacher, principal and assistant superintendent of schools, has been Connecticut’s education commissioner through the COVID-19 crisis. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Biden’s Labor secretary nominee, joined a union at age 21 and as mayor fought for labor causes such as the $15 minimum wage and paid family leave. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, the Commerce secretary nominee, led her state out of one of the nation’s worst unemployment crises and earlier had founded the first venture capital firm in her state.
Trump’s scattershot Cabinet
None of this should be noteworthy, and yet it is, because it is such a stark departure from Trump’s scattershot Cabinet selection criteria: Do well on Fox News? Look like a statesman? Pledge loyalty? Eager to weaken and disrupt their agency? Never met an Obama policy they wanted to keep?
This is how you end up with an oil CEO as secretary of State, a neurosurgeon as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, an acting director of national intelligence with no national intelligence background, an Education secretary with little knowledge of (and seemingly even less interest in) public education, and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director who seemed to forget for months that his primary, most essential job was to convey clear, science-based information and guidance on COVID-19 to states, the health sector and the public.
Democrats might want to remind their Republican colleagues of all this when they go after nominees such as Transportation Secretary designate Pete Buttigieg. The 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, served in the military, was a McKinsey management consultant and ran a creditable race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. That background stacks up nicely against Team Trump's John McEntee, 30, the presidential personnel director in charge of purging officials deemed disloyal, fired by the administration in 2018 for online gambling but brought back last year, and James Bacon, the college senior he hired as his director of operations.
Like most of his Cabinet appointees, the White House staff Biden has chosen is also squarely in the category of been there, done that — starting with incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, who was vice presidential chief of staff for both Al Gore and Joe Biden, and later served as President Barack Obama’s Ebola response coordinator.
“One reason you need old hands is the old hands know where the old bodies might be buried,” Biden said last month. He himself, at age 78, with decades of service in the Senate and as Obama’s vice president, is the old hand in chief. By giving him the Democratic nomination and electing him president, voters made clear what they wanted.
Progressives are dismayed by some of Biden's nominees, particularly the corporate business they did between stints in government. But as Trump continues to ignore a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans — and stokes the lies and violence that led to terror, gunfire, vandalism and death at the Capitol — Biden's focus on experience is not surprising.
There will be a time for fresh faces. Now is not that time.
— By commentary editor Jill Lawrence on behalf of the Editorial Board.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff and the USA TODAY Network. Most editorials are coupled with an Opposing View, a unique USA TODAY feature.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden Cabinet nominees: Old hands will give America a new start