Joe Biden’s transition team has a message for anyone publicly jockeying for a job in a potential Biden administration: Knock it off.
Members of the transition team have been fuming at the recent flood of stories listing people in contention for the top spots should Biden win the presidential race next month, according to Democratic officials who have spoken to them. They warn that the efforts could backfire, knocking those participating out of contention for high-profile posts.
“There is speculation with every transition, but public campaigning for administration jobs during an election of this magnitude is tone-deaf,” said a Democratic strategist close to transition officials. “The only campaigning folks should be doing is for Biden, Harris, the Senate and candidates down the ballot who can help turn things around. Everything else is counterproductive.”
Names being floated: The former vice president’s transition staff is already busy vetting candidates and plotting out an agenda for the first 100 days of the new administration, but is loath to talk about any of it until after Election Day.
That hasn’t, however, stopped others from campaigning to be part of a Biden administration, something that’s ramped up as Biden’s polling lead over President Donald Trump has widened. A trio of New Mexican lawmakers have been angling for Interior secretary, POLITICO reported last week. The auditioning can also be more subtle: Sen. Chris Coons, for example, penned a piece for Foreign Affairs Magazine last week, amid reports that the Delaware senator is in the mix for secretary of State.
And then there are names floated without clear fingerprints from whomever is pushing them. There have been news reports speculating that Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are leading candidates for attorney general; Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard is up for Treasury secretary; Michèle Flournoy is leading the race for Defense secretary; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is a possible Energy secretary; and plenty more.
Some on the transition team have noted that very few of the names being speculated about are people of color, amid a national reckoning on racism. Biden is under pressure to appoint the most diverse cabinet in American history, and has pledged to to improve racial equity in part by promoting “diverse leadership for all federal agencies.”
Cuomo, for one, denied he had any interest in the job or that he was campaigning for it. “Those rumors, … those are only from people who want to get me out of New York,” he told NBC’s “Today Show” last week. “I don’t know why, but that’s where that’s coming from.”
What’s ahead: Pre-election jockeying is not new, nor is the annoyance it brings to the transition team, according to veterans of past transitions. “Generally, I think the personnel process is very buttoned-up before the election, and no one in the transition who is working on it now appreciates public speculation or pressure,” said John Podesta, who led President Barack Obama’s transition in 2008.
Other veterans of the Obama transition say that getting one’s name floated can at least help their name on a shortlist but can ultimately annoy the decision-makers if the job candidate is too aggressive. Podesta said, “If one wants a job in the administration, the best thing to do is work as hard as you can to get Biden elected.”
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