Susan Rice and Xavier Becerra were always likely to get plum appointments in a Biden administration. Both are important figures in the Democratic Party and both check a race/ethnicity box.
But the appointments the two received are odd. Rice, a foreign policy/national security hand, will be Biden’s domestic policy adviser.
Becerra, the Attorney General of California, is the nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services. He has no experience working at HHS, no medical background, and has never been chief executive of a state or any entity other than an attorney general’s shop.
Biden’s odd selections don’t end with Rice and Becerra. As Jim Geraghty notes, Denis McDonough, the pick for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, is not a veteran and has no experience focused specifically on veterans issues. And Rep. Fudge, who stated she didn’t want to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development — traditionally a dumping ground for Black politicians, she said — has been selected to run that department.
Finally, there is talk that Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of a small city who has no foreign policy experience or experience with China, might be named U.S. ambassador to China. That would probably be the oddest pick of all. The Chinese will have a good laugh if Biden selects Buttigieg for this post.
Does it take experience in a subject matter to run a department charged with that area of policy? I guess it depends on a president’s theory of how a department should be run.
Republican presidents should want department heads who will curb the leftist tendencies of career employees. This requires some subject matter knowledge and an awful lot of spine. That’s why selecting William Barr to run the Justice Department made great sense, and selecting Alex Acosta to run the Department of Labor was a disaster.
Biden, if he has thought the matter through, is likely content to have department heads who will ratify the leftist policies and preferences of sub-cabinet level appointees and career bureaucrats. Thus, filling the Cabinet with a combination of cronies and diversity box checkers is fine for Biden’s purposes.
Similarly, if your intention is to appease China, maybe it makes sense to have a non-threatening representative in Beijing. But sending someone as inexperienced and insubstantial as Buttigieg might be carrying the joke too far.