President-elect Joe Biden has already begun considering who will head the departments and agencies critical to repairing what he has characterized as the country’s deteriorating relationships with foreign allies and alliances abroad. And, in at least one department, he could potentially make history by appointing a woman.
There are three cabinet-level agencies — Defense, Treasury and Veterans Affairs — that have never been headed by a woman, and several women are thought to be on Biden’s shortlist for the top Pentagon post.
Biden’s transition team is not commenting on its deliberations, but here are some of the women the former vice president is said to be considering for top foreign policy, diplomacy and defense positions.
Rice was one of several women Biden considered for the vice presidential slot that eventually went to Kamala Harris. Now Rice, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, has been floated as a potential pick to lead the State Department or another top diplomatic or defense post. Rice also served as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and as a former assistant secretary of state and National Security Council staffer under President Bill Clinton.
Rice would bring years of experience to a post in Biden’s administration, but, because of that experience, her confirmation in a closely divided Senate could be difficult. Republicans have alleged that Rice misled the public about the 2012 Benghazi attacks at a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya that killed four Americans. Rice withdrew from consideration to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in part due to the controversy. Republicans have also criticized Rice’s request, as national security advisor, to “unmask” the identities of some individuals in intelligence reports who were linked to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and transition.
Power succeeded Rice as ambassador to the U.N. during Obama’s second term, and she is often mentioned as a possible top diplomat in Biden’s administration. She advised Obama’s State Department transition team and advised the former president as a member of his National Security Council. At the U.N., Power focused on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, human trafficking and refugee issues. Her academic work has focused on ethnic genocide prevention. Power has been involved with Biden’s campaign despite embracing the use of military force for humanitarian intervention to a greater degree than Biden himself. Power could also return as U.N. ambassador.
Sherman, a high-ranking State Department official during Obama’s administration, has been floated to lead the diplomatic agency under Biden or, perhaps more likely, serve as U.N. ambassador. Sherman led nuclear negotiations with Iran as the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs. Sherman also coordinated the agency’s North Korea policy during the Clinton administration in the 1990s. Sherman began her career as a social worker and was director of EMILY’s List, a group that funds the campaigns of Democratic candidates who support abortion access. The political nature of the post could prompt Republican pushback in a confirmation setting.
Biden’s administration could make history with the first female U.S. Defense secretary and Flournoy, a political moderate and Pentagon veteran, is considered a front-runner for that role. Flournoy was an undersecretary of defense policy — becoming the highest-ranking woman in the department’s history — during Obama’s administration. There, she shaped the U.S. responses in Afghanistan and Libya. Flournoy previously served as a deputy assistant secretary for strategy during the Clinton administration.
In recent months, she advocated to speed up the development of technology to compete with China and said that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need to broaden what we consider a national security issue. Flournoy co-founded the Center for New American Security, a for-profit think tank that specializes in national security issues, as well as Westexec Advisors, which counsels corporate clients on geopolitical risk. Her corporate clients would likely be scrutinized by progressives during confirmation proceedings.
Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran and Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois who is also believed to be on Biden’s potential list for a potentially history-making Defense secretary. Duckworth was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army and was awarded a Purple Heart after her aircraft was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that caused injuries resulting in the loss of both of her legs. With the birth of her second daughter in 2018, Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office. Duckworth’s daughter was the first infant allowed on the Senate floor when she held the 10-day-old during a vote. Duckworth was also a potential vice presidential pick for Biden.
She previously served as an assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs during the Obama administration and as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. If Duckworth were appointed to Biden’s cabinet, her Senate seat would be filled by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat.
Biden tapped Hicks, the director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), to lead his transition’s Defense Department agency review team, half of which is women. Hicks, who served as a deputy undersecretary of defense policy and defense strategy during the Obama administration, is thought to be a dark-horse pick to lead the department or a likely appointee to another senior Pentagon post.
Monaco, a counterterrorism and homeland security adviser to Obama, is a likely contender for several foreign policy positions, including to head the Department of Homeland Security or be director of national intelligence. She has a relationship with Biden that dates back to his years in the Senate, where she worked on the Violence Against Women Act as a member of his Judiciary Committee staff in the 1990s. During the Obama administration, she was the first and only woman to date to serve as the assistant attorney general for national security.
Demings, a House lawmaker from Florida since 2017, was also among the women Biden reportedly considered to be his vice president. She is now thought to be on Biden’s shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security. Demings, a 27-year law enforcement veteran and the first woman to serve as Orlando’s chief of police from 2007 to 2011, serves on the House panels on homeland security, judiciary and intelligence. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped Demings to serve as the impeachment manager during the Senate trial of Trump.
Haines, who has been advising Biden’s transition team on foreign relations, has been floated as a possible pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency or be the director of national intelligence. During the Obama administration, Haines was a deputy national security adviser and the first woman to be a deputy CIA director. At the agency, Haines was involved in the project to redact the Senate torture report examining CIA interrogation tactics. She also accepted an accountability board’s recommendation that CIA staff should not be disciplined for spying on Senate investigators. That, and Haine’s support for Trump-appointed CIA deputy director Gina Haspel, despite her involvement in the agency’s torture program, could generate pushback from progressives to her confirmation.