Biden long said he wanted to depoliticize the role, so it was vital for the choice to be above reproach. Well before the federal probe into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China was announced, Biden said the attorney general is “not the president’s private lawyer” and he would appoint someone to enforce the law “as written but not guided by me.”
Supporters of former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates saw her nearly 30-year career in both Democrat and Republican administrations, and experience from civil rights cases to national security matters, as qualifications to lead the department.
Democrats were concerned, however, that the focus of a Yates confirmation hearing would be the Georgian’s final year at the department, when the FBI closed out the Hillary Clinton email scandal and opened the dubious “Russian interference” investigation.
That left Doug Jones, who lost his re-election race in November, and Merrick Garland, who earned a Supreme Court nomination from Barack Obama early in 2016.
Jones worked as a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and won a special U.S. Senate election in 2017. He has a strong civil rights background and a 30-year personal relationship with Biden.
Former Massachusetts governor and brief 2020 presidential candidate Deval Patrick was also considered, as was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, despite his disastrous mandates that nursing homes take COVID positive patients, decision to close indoor dining, and sexual harassment charges against him.
But Biden turned to an experienced judge, whose senior positions at the Justice Department include supervising the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing prosecution.
Supporters consider Garland a man of integrity. The Illinois native maintained a public silence after his Supreme Court nomination was thwarted five years ago, and returned to his post on the nation’s second-most powerful court. Ideally, his previous tenure at DOJ reflects that the 68-year-old can remain politically independent from the White House on prosecution matters and lead without political influence.
The AP immediately reported: “It was unclear how Garland’s selection would be received by Black and Latino advocates who had advocated for a Black attorney general or for someone with a background in civil rights causes and criminal justice reform.”
NPR said “Garland’s selection could frustrate more progressive members of the diverse coalition that helped elect Biden. On the bench, the judge developed a moderate to conservative record on criminal justice. A more recent analysis by professors at the University of Virginia concluded that Garland was ‘in line with the Republican appointees’ on criminal cases.”
And finally, in a story that required three writers, the Washington Post claimed “some defense lawyers and criminal-justice-reform advocates have said they worry Garland’s record on the bench shows he is too deferential to the government and law enforcement — and perhaps would not be as aggressive about implementing the kind of dramatic changes they seek.”
But these tribalists likely fail to understand that Biden may be banking on Garland’s moderate reputation to ensure confirmation in a 50-50 Senate.
Biden also will reportedly tap Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as his commerce secretary. An official announcement could come Friday.
The 49-year-old Rhodes Scholar is considered a rising star and business friendly by Democrat standards, even clashing with unions while reforming her state’s employee pension plans as treasurer nearly a decade ago. The former venture capitalist still managed to get elected in 2014 and 2018, and is now the nation’s longest-serving female governor.
In April, a poll found 84 percent of Rhode Island voters trusted the information Raimondo provided about the COVID-19 outbreak, but as infection rates in the Ocean State climbed to the highest average daily case rate, she’s become one of the least popular governors in America, and has been criticized.
The Harvard and Yale graduate served as a national co-chair for Mike Bloomberg’s failed 2020 presidential campaign, endorsing Biden only after the former mayor dropped out. She is also a former Democratic Governor’s Association chair.
In considering Raimondo, Biden moved to a more traditional choice, rather than CEO types like Tom Steyer, the billionaire activist who unsuccessfully ran for the 2020 Democrat nomination; Meg Whitman, a Biden-supporting Republican who ran Hewlett-Packard and eBay; former Pepsi Chair Indra Nooyi, who now sits on Amazon’s board; and Mellody Hobson, former chair of Starbucks’ board of directors and co-CEO of Ariel Investments.