Progressives have been spoiling for a fight over Biden’s administration appointees since well before the election. Leftist lawmakers and activist organizations have sent a series of letters to the Biden transition team, urging it to fill the administration with women and people of color, and demanding that Biden shun lobbyists and top corporate executives. Lefties want to see kindred spirits such as Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts given top positions in the Biden government. But moderates argue that if Democrats ban appointees with corporate backgrounds, they could also be excluding some of the Democratic officials with the most experience running the federal government, as well as many qualified candidates of color. Biden’s “first priority is going to be a Cabinet that reflects the full diversity of the party and the country,” Lanae Erickson, the senior vice president for social policy and politics at the centrist think tank Third Way, told me. “Putting other litmus tests on top of that makes it harder to get the diverse Cabinet [he] might want.”
Complicating the appointment process further is the fact that, given the GOP’s likely Senate majority, Biden’s nominees will need at least a few Republican votes to be confirmed. Most moderates in the party don’t see that as a problem: They expect Biden to nominate centrist Democrats and a few Republicans who can appeal to both political parties. But leftists would rather Biden circumvent the Senate approval process altogether. They’ve suggested that Biden, like Trump, could delegate authority to lower-level officials or use the Vacancies Act to fill posts when Senate confirmations are delayed. “If McConnell refuses to confirm a Cabinet that reflects the country’s desire for an aggressive response to the pandemic and economic crisis, Joe Biden has tools to ensure he still fulfills his presidential mandate,” leaders of two progressive groups, the Revolving Door Project and Demand Progress, wrote in an open letter last week.