The Ten Notable ‘Firsts’ in the Biden Administration

Jae Kim, Writer

In December 2020, then President Elect Joe Biden promised to build “a cabinet that looks like America.” As the President, he seems to be delivering on the promise.

 The Independent will highlight the ten notable ‘firsts’ in the new administration.


Secretary of Defense

Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin

U.S. Army photo by Spc. XaViera Masline via Flicker Public Domain


158 years after black soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war per the Emancipation Proclamation, and 80 years after Benjamin O. Davis Sr. became the first African American to become a general in the U.S. Army, the Senate confirmed Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to be the first African American secretary of defense. Austin is the first cabinet secretary nominee to be confirmed, with a 93-2 vote on Jan. 22, 2021. President Biden said that he is appreciative of Austin’s understanding of the human cost of war first-hand. The Secretary of Defense is  one of thirteen BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) cabinet members in the Biden administration thus far confirmed or nominated. There are twenty-five cabinet level officers total.


 Secretary of Homeland Security

Alejandro Mayorkas

Image by Pigsonthewing via Flickr2Commons CC-BY-2.0

For the first time in U.S. history, the person in charge of immigration and border-related issues, such as counterterrorism and cybersecurity, is an immigrant himself. A former Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Office, Alejandro Mayorkas became the first immigrant and Latino to be confirmed as the Secretary of Homeland Security on Feb. 2, 2021 despite some opposition from the anti-immigration Republican Party. He was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, whose own parents were immigrants.


Vice President

Kamala Harris

Photograph by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0

Kamala Harris was sworn in as the Vice President on January 20, 2021. She became the second-highest officer in the executive branch and the president of the U.S. Senate as a woman of color.


Director of National Intelligence

Avril Haines

Image by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-3.0


Avril Haines became the first cabinet level official to be confirmed as the National Security Advisor on January 21, 2021. She became the seventh Director of National Intelligence. All previous six Directors of National Intelligence were men.


Secretary of the Treasury

Janet Yellen

Photo by Britt Leckman via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain


On September 11, 1789, Alexander Hamilton became the nation’s first Secretary of Treasury.

Almost 232 years and 77 Secretaries later, Yellen became the nation’s first woman to lead the Treasury Department of the United States.


U.S. Trade Representative

Katherine Tai

Image by TDKR Chicago 101 via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-2.0


Pending confirmation, Katherine Tai will become the first woman of color to hold the position of the U.S. Trade Representative. She is currently the chief trade council for the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee. Tai, whose parents were born in mainland China is respected by moderate Democrats and some Republicans and expected to play key roles in developing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and increasingly complicated China trade policy.


Secretary of the Interior

Deb Haaland 

Image by Shane Balkowitsch in wet plate Collodion via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0


If confirmed, Deb Haaland will become the first Native American person to oversee public and federal lands, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Services and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Haaland would become only the second woman to head the Office of Interior. On her Twitter account, she explains the meaning of her Native American name. She wrote, “‘Crushed Turquoise’ translated from the Keres language. Like the color of the sky or a deep blue ocean. Before colonization, women were equals and I strive to be a voice for them.”


Secretary of Transportation

Pete Buttigieg

Photograph by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0


The Department of Transportation advises on transportation policy and oversees aviation, highways and railroad regulations. On Feb. 3, 2021, Pete Buttigieg became the first openly gay cabinet member as the Secretary of Transportation. There is still a long way to go for representation of the LGBTQ community in leadership positions, but we are permitted to say “look how far we’ve come!” for now.


Secretary of Health and Human Services

Xavier Becerra

Photograph by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0


It is reported that COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color. Also, according to the Brookings Institution, the economically hardest hit areas are larger Hispanic or Latino communities. It is very fitting that President Biden nominated Xavier Becerra to be the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. As the Secretary of HSS, Becerra will oversee the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and the Food and Drug Administration, among others.


Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

John Kerry

Photograph by Remy Steinegger via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0

John Kerry is not new to a cabinet position, having served the Obama administration as the U.S. Secretary of State. However, this is the first time a “Climate Czar” would be a cabinet-level official by virtue of being a member of the U.S. National Security Council (NSC). The fact that President Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day at the office and appointed such an experienced statesman to the position of the Special Envoy for Climate could be perceived as the new administration’s view on climate change issues as national security threats

  For the first time in U.S. history, more than half of President Joe Biden’s cabinet members will be non-white and 48% will be female, if confirmed by the Senate. In addition, the President and the Vice President announced that every member of the White House communication team will be female.

 Although some are criticizing the Biden administration for not having enough Asian Americans in the top leadership positions, this administration has one of, if not the most, diverse teams ever in history.

 It is still very early to tell how history will judge this administration, but these appointed cabinet members signify the Biden administration’s commitment to represent the many voices of America.