President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will make history when they enter the White House. Biden will be the second-ever Catholic president, while Harris will be the first woman, the first Black person and the first Indian American to hold the VP slot. Winning on the strength of an extremely diverse voting coalition, Biden and Harris supporters expect that the new administration will reflect that diversity.
Biden’s recent appointments to his coronavirus task force, transition team and White House senior staff, as well as speculation about his upcoming cabinet picks, all suggest that the Biden administration may be one of the most diverse in American history. With that in mind, here are 10 Black leaders and politicians who may end up serving important roles during the Biden presidency, and the jobs that they are rumored to be in the running to receive.
Susan Rice: Secretary of State
Biden has a ton of experience working with Dr. Susan Rice, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations and then National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama. These positions were just two of the items on Rice’s incredibly impressive resume. She is a Stanford and Oxford educated Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate degree in International Relations. She quickly rose up the diplomatic ladder to become Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President Bill Clinton. Throw in stints as foreign policy adviser to multiple Democratic presidential candidates and teaching at American University, and Rice is one of the most impressive candidates for any position in the White House.
Many people, including Ambassador Rice herself, have commented on her suitability for the state department’s top role. Nevertheless, Rice may have difficulty getting confirmed, as Republicans have spent years demonizing her for allegedly misleading the public about the cause of the 2012 attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Rice has largely taken the fall for the situation, which she had no actual role in handling. If Democrats win control of the Senate, however, Rice may very well end up as the new Secretary of State.
Val Demings: Secretary of Homeland Security
Florida Representative Val Demings has made a name for herself since entering Congress in 2017. The former Orlando Police Chief played a key role in prosecuting the case against President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial. She later made the shortlist of potential running mates for Biden. Rep. Demings serves on both the Homeland Security and Judiciary committees, giving her intimate knowledge of the department that she could head. And putting a Black woman with significant police experience at the top of Department of Homeland Security could help reform an agency that has been criticized for both ignoring white racist threats to America and implementing several racist policies itself.
Jeh Johnson: Attorney General
If Rep. Demings becomes the head of DHS, she will be the second Black person to hold that job. The first was Jeh Johnson, who served as top lawyer at the Department of Defense before becoming secretary of Homeland Security, both under President Obama. As a lawyer, Johnson has a long history in both private practice and government service, including stints representing the Air Force and working as a federal prosecutor. A number of current or former officials and legislators, from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to Senator Amy Klobuchar, have been proposed as potential AG picks. But Johnson’s experience and his previous cabinet-level post – for which he was confirmed by all Democrats and a majority of Republican senators – make him a strong choice for Attorney General.
Jahana Hayes: Secretary of Education
Jahana Hayes was named Teacher of the Year by President Obama in 2016. Two years later, she was elected as the first Black congresswoman from the state of Connecticut. Since then, she has advocated for her state and for education issues while having to endure racist attacks online. Rep. Hayes has also used her time in Congress to spar with Secretary of Education Betsy Devos several times, including calling out Devos for supporting teachers carrying guns in schools and criticizing her for rushing to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. After holding “non-educator” Devos’ feet to the fire, it would be fitting for Hayes to replace Devos as the official in charge of federal education policy.
Karen Bass: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Several names have been floated around to replace Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, but Representative Karen Bass has emerged as a leading candidate. The California Democrat has been chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus since 2018, leading the legislative bloc during a time when it helped defend and mobilize Black voters, among many other activities. She was also a candidate on Biden’s shortlist for VP.
After years of neglect and deregulation under Trump and Carson, housing policies and regulations are expected to be renewed under Biden, making the next HUD secretary’s role a key job in the administration. A number of other Black candidates are also in the running for the top HUD role, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former HUD Deputy Secretary Maurice Jones. While all the candidates for the job are strong, Bass has been both identified as the leading choice. She's also being verbally attacked as a communist sympathizer by Fox News, which is perhaps the strongest sign that she would be an effective leader within the Biden administration.
Marcia Fudge: Secretary of Agriculture
Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge has not been shy about expressing her desire to be the next Secretary of Agriculture. She is also upfront about why she deserves the job. Fudge has spent the past 12 years representing a major farming state. During that time, she has provided oversight and advocated for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that helps provide healthy food to families in need. Fudge has reminded people that such programs account for 80% of the U.S. agricultural budget. She even served as chairwoman of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Powerful House Democrat – and Biden’s campaign-saver – Rep. James Clyburn is supporting Rep. Fudge’s bid to become the first Black agriculture secretary. She also has the backing of many HBCUs, which also fall under the Department’s authority.
Symone Sanders: White House Press Secretary
Under President Trump, White House press secretaries have become known for lying to the press and insulting the president’s political opponents, but expectations are high that the position will return to respect under Biden. This will certainly be the case if Biden taps his senior campaign adviser Symone Sanders for the role, as many are speculating may happen soon. After serving as press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, Symone – no relation – was immediately chosen as an adviser by Biden when he announced his 2020 run. As Blavity previously reported, Sanders’ service to Biden encompassed everything from communicating his message to snatching protestors off the stage before they could touch the candidate.
An extremely talented communicator and political operative, Sanders is said to be one of Biden’s top choices to represent the White House to the press.
If Sanders does not end up being named Press Secretary, the position may go to another Black woman who was key to the campaign: Karine Jean-Pierre, who served as Harris' chief of staff after the California senator was named as the VP pick. Though only one woman will become Press Secretary, both Sanders and Jean-Pierre are likely to occupy significant roles in the Biden-Harris White House.
Roger Ferguson: Secretary of the Treasury
Roger Ferguson, president and CEO of the giant insurance company, TIAA, may not be a household name, but he is a leading contender to become Treasury Secretary. Ferguson is fueling these rumors by announcing that he will retire from TIAA early next year, possibly indicating that he expects to get the job from Biden.
Biden’s Treasury Secretary nomination will likely lead to one of the most contentious cabinet fights of his presidency, dividing not only Democrats and Republicans but also progressives and moderates within his own party. Progressives are opposed to choosing a candidate with strong private industry ties, which could hurt the chances of Ferguson, who also sits on the board of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. However, Ferguson’s candidacy is strengthened by his background in government, including serving on the Federal Reserve Board under Alan Greenspan and helping lead the country’s economic recovery after September 11, 2001.
Jaime Harrison: Democratic National Committee Chair
South Carolina politician Jaime Harrison, who narrowly lost the 2020 S.C. Senate race to Lindsey Graham, has since emerged as a contender to replace Tom Perez as chairman of the DNC. The Atlantic reports that Harrison is “likely” to get the job. Democrats have been impressed by Harrison’s ability to nearly win a race as a Black Democrat in the Deep South, and to raise more money than any Senate candidate in history – $100 million. Blavity, meanwhile, was impressed by his ability to bring his own plexiglass barrier to the debate with Graham. Harrison was previously chairman of South Carolina’s Democratic Party and a previous DNC Chair candidate, further adding to the case that he should get the top party job in 2021.
Stacey Abrams: Whatever she wants
Next to Biden and Harris, Stacey Abrams is arguably the most powerful and most popular member of the Democratic Party at the moment. After losing her 2018 bid to become governor of Georgia due to shady tactics of voter disenfranchisement, Abrams dedicated her career to promoting and protecting voters in general and particularly Black voters. Her efforts led to 800,000 new voters being registered in Georgia, more or less handing the formerly red state to Biden. With two special elections in January to determine control of the Senate, Georgia is the current epicenter of political competition, and Abrams’ efforts could end up giving Democrats control of Congress.
An early candidate for Biden’s VP role, Abrams has recently been proposed as a potential pick for everything from Attorney General to DNC Chair to Supreme Court Justice. Some may argue that she’s more powerful and more useful to the party by working outside of an official appointment, but her successes mean that she could likely have her pick of roles if she chooses to ask for one.
With so many influential and accomplished Black political figures and leaders up for consideration, the Biden-Harris administration is poised to better reflect the Black community than perhaps any administration before.