Joe Biden enters uncharted territory

It looks like 2021 will be the year of “firsts,” though those “firsts” technically began occurring at the end of 2020. President-elect Joe Biden chose as his running mate Kamala Harris, who became our first female Vice President-elect. Harris is of Black and South Asian descent, both of which are also firsts. Then, he began filling his cabinet with many firsts.

In addition to membership in the “firsts” club, all have relevant experience in the areas they will lead, giving them the opportunity to begin work on day one. Biden’s list of “firsts” includes Janet Yellen, the first female Secretary of the Treasury, and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, the first Black person to hold this position. Biden’s “firsts” do not stop here.

To make this as succinct as possible because of the sheer number, the remaining “firsts” are Lloyd Austin, first Black Secretary of Defense; Xavier Becerra, first Latino head of Health and Human Services; Michael Regan, first Black EPA Administrator; Avril Haines, first female leader of Intelligence; Alejandro Mayorkas, first Latino and immigrant head of Department of Homeland Security; Cecilia Rouse, first woman of color to chair the Council of Economic Advisers; and Neera Tanden, first woman of color/Asian American, Director of Office of Management and Budget. Two of the most important nominations Biden has made are Deb Haaland for Interior Secretary, making her the first Native American to lead the department that determines policy for natural resources and tribal lands, and Pete Buttigieg, Transportation Secretary, the first openly LGBTQ person to serve in a presidential cabinet.

Biden has also chosen a woman to lead the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, who is the chief of infectious disease at Massachusetts General, and Politico recently revealed that Biden has chosen Miguel Cardona as Education Secretary. Cardona’s entire career has revolved around education, starting as an elementary school teacher, moving to principal, district administrator, assistant superintendent, and finally as adjunct professor.

Each of Biden’s choices will bring unique perspectives to his cabinet, and more importantly, they bring experience to the roles. The only appointee who appears, on the surface, to lack experience is Xavier Becerra. But as the Times reported, Beccerra was one of the biggest defenders of the Affordable Care Act and healthcare for workers in general. Those who know Beccerra believe that he will not only efficiently lead such a large organization but has “intimate knowledge of how badly many Americans, particularly essential workers, have suffered under the current administration’s policies on health insurance and the pandemic.” Becerra’s appointment already overshadows Trump’s appointment of Alex Azar, who had little empathy for Americans’ plight during these troubled times.

No matter how you look at these choices, we have the unique opportunity to be led by people who look like us and, in some cases, have been in our shoes. Further, the experience that each brings to the table will be invaluable in trying to recover from COVID-19 and the resultant economic turndown. These selections give us yet another reason to exhale after the last administration.

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