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Nation & World

Biden Administration Includes Several Picks From Obama's

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The Supreme Court case could've been called democracy versus the president. And democracy won after the court's decision to essentially ignore President Trump and the GOP's attempt to subvert the election. This devastating courtroom defeat has shifted most eyes to who will be in the upcoming Biden-Harris administration. And it seems there, so far, it's back to the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

JOE BIDEN: For surgeon general of the United States, I nominate a man who could do any of these jobs, I think. But Dr. Vivek Murthy...

The world will know that with one of my closest friends, John Kerry, he's speaking for America...

For secretary of agriculture, I nominate Tom Vilsack.

As director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, I spent some time convincing this wonderful public servant, but we're - I'm appointing Susan Rice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Murthy, Kerry, Vilsack, Rice - all from the Obama administration. Joining me now is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So some of these folks - Dr. Murthy, Vilsack - are reprising their roles from just four years ago. But others from those days are shuffling around to new roles. Can you lay it out for us?

KEITH: What you have are a lot of people who had senior roles in the Obama administration, key deputy positions, now being named to run those agencies. That includes Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken and Biden's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas. Janet Yellen, who has held every other top economic job in government, picked to lead the Treasury Department. Susan Rice is moving from being a chief adviser on foreign policy to a chief adviser on domestic policy. And you can expect more of this pattern of familiar faces as Biden fills out his Cabinet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what's the rationale here, Tam? - because, you know, there are progressives within the Democratic Party who are not happy with this. They feel it's important to have, yes, capable and talented people, but people who maybe haven't already had a whole career in another administration.

KEITH: Or two other administrations 'cause some go back to Clinton. You know, I was talking to a well-connected Democrat last night who said part of this is that Biden is stepping into the White House facing the COVID crisis and an economic crisis. And they have to be prepared to run these massive agencies on Day 1.

But there is also an element of Biden's personality and leadership style. He has aides who have been with him off and on since early in his time in the Senate. And Biden values personal relationships. The Democrat I was talking to said he expected Biden to bring in a lot of Biden people, but this is even more than he was expecting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is something, though, that Biden and his vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, have promised, which is that this administration will look like America, that it will be diverse. How are they doing in that regard?

KEITH: They have been quite deliberate about announcing slates of people - so the whole economic team or the whole national security team - which means that they are able to show off the diversity of their choices with each announcement. Even so, there are complaints that there are too many old white guys. And there are demands coming in, for instance, that Biden name a Black attorney general or, at the very least, someone who's worked on voting rights and civil rights. There's a push to get him to name a Native American to lead the Department of Interior. Asian American, Latino and LGBT activists are all pushing for greater representation in the Cabinet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One name that has raised some concern is Biden's pick for defense secretary, retired General Lloyd Austin, who is Black. A Congress would have to grant a waiver - right? - to a decades-old law for him to serve, like they did for General Mattis. And many in the Senate have said they won't do it again. Why would Biden push ahead with Austin knowing that?

KEITH: Well, there were certainly hints of it in Biden's introduction of Austin last week, and it comes back to personal relationships. He talked about how his late son Beau had served on Austin's staff when Beau was serving in Iraq. He would be the first Black secretary of defense. And Biden has put an emphasis on the potential to make history with his nominations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.