Inauguration day crash course: meet the women stepping into power
Regardless of where you stand on President-Elect Joe Biden and the incoming administration, this will be a historic term for women. So far, 25 have been selected for high-level Cabinet and White House positions, and there may be more on the horizon!
So let’s get acquainted with the empowered women we know so far. You can find deeper dives on all of them elsewhere, so think of these as brief introductions—a little background on their careers and what they’ll be responsible for—and feel free to go down your own little rabbit holes if someone in particular speaks to you.
Oh, and let’s be clear: when we say “a little background,” we truly mean very little—just the most recent and relevant highlights. If we tried to list all of the accomplishments of the women listed on this page, you’d be scrolling for eternity ;)
Jusssst in case you somehow missed it, our Vice President-Elect is the first woman to hold the position. *&$@^%!!! And the first Black woman… And the first Indian-American woman! So if you haven’t yet, it’s probably time to celebrate. We’ve been rocking our kamala la la la la la la tees all holiday season, and we don’t plan to stop anytime soon…
Kamala Harris, VP
She began her career as a prosecutor in 1990 at the Almeda County Courthouse and began working her way up through the courts in the Bay Area. In 2010, she was elected Attorney General of California. On Jan. 3, 2017, she became the second African American woman and the first South Asian woman to serve in the United States Senate (for the state of California).
Politically, she’s hard to put in a box: she cares about climate change and was co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, believes in gun control and six months paid leave for personal and medical issues, including domestic violence. She has a long history of standing with law enforcement on issues involving the public, but wants to decriminalize border crossings and has recently emerged as a leading voice on social and racial justice.
Oh, and you better believe this white house feminist picked women for her key staff too… Women for women, baby!
Tina Flournoy, Chief of Staff for the Vice President
She served as Chief of Staff to former President Bill Clinton, has had a variety of roles in the Democratic party since, and currently holds a senior position at the American Federation of Teachers union. She’ll manage the VP’s schedule and audiences.
Symone Sanders, Senior Adviser & Chief Spokesperson for the Vice President
A popular political commentator, Senior Advisor for the Biden campaign in 2020, and former Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. She’ll speak on behalf of the VP with the media.
These positions require Senate confirmation, but it’s unlikely they’ll be overturned. So let’s celebrate—with caution!—our first Native American Cabinet member, our first openly gay Cabinet member, the first Black Defense Secretary, the first Latinx Homeland Security Secretary, and the first woman Treasury Secretary! Plus, more women in power across the board than ever before. Let’s meet them:
Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Human Development
This former Mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio has served in the House of Representatives since 2008 and is a past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She’s a civil rights activist and veteran lawmaker who will focus on improving housing affordability and accessibility.
Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
She served as Governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011 and has a strong record of advocacy for alternative energy as well as economic responsibility, as evidenced in her work throughout the 2008 recession and the auto-industry bailout. If confirmed, she’ll be the lead advisor on green energy policy.
Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior
New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the first ever Native American Cabinet member. It’s about time! She’s a Green New Deal supporter who will advise on policy for federally owned natural resources, as well as tribal lands.
Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury
From 2014 to 2018, she was the first woman to run the Federal Reserve, and before that served as a top White House economist during the Clinton administration. Given that we’re experiencing an economic crisis, she’ll play a pivotal role in stimulating recovery in the months to come. Get it, Janet.
KEY WHITE HOUSE STAFF
Big news: this is going to be the first all-female presidential communications team and we stan. Here’s Kamala Harris, on Biden’s feminist nominations: “to overcome these challenges, we need to communicate clearly, honestly, and transparently with the American people, and this experienced, talented, and barrier-shattering team will help us do that.” Here they are:
Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary
Known for her transparency, calm under pressure, and eloquence, Psaki will lead the Communications team. She served as Communications Director in the Obama administration and has served on several presidential campaigns, from Kerry to Obama to Biden’s 2020 victory.
Kate Bedingfield, White House Communications Director
Bedingfield and Biden go way back. She was his Communications Director and Deputy Campaign Manager during his campaign. She was also his Comms Director in the Obama White House. She’ll lead a team, write speeches, and promote the President’s agenda.
Jen O’Malley Dillon, Deputy Chief of Staff
She’s worked on tons of presidential campaigns over the years, and during the most recent primary, managed Beto O’Rourke’s. In March, she joined the Biden campaign. As Deputy Chief of Staff, O'Malley Dillon will help with day-to-day operations and staffing at the White House.
Dana Remus, White House Counsel
She’ll serve as top legal advisor to President Biden, after working as general counsel for his presidential campaign as well as for the Obama Foundation. She’s also a professor of law at UNC.
Cathy Russell, Director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel
She served as Chief of Staff to former Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden and an ambassador on global women’s issues in the State Department during the Obama Administration, among other things. Now, she’ll serve as aide and adviser to the President on presidential appointments.
Louisa Terrell, Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs
She was Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff when he was a Senator and worked on legal affairs under Obama. She’ll coordinate comms between Congress and the White House in this new position.
Julie Chávez Rodriguez, Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
In this election cycle, she began as National Political Director for the Harris Campaign, then joined Biden’s as Deputy Campaign Manager. She’s held White House positions in the past and will coordinate communication between the White House and state and local gov. in her new role.
Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon, Chief of Staff for the First Lady
During the Obama administration, she served as U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay and as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. She is a partner at the law firm Winston & Strawn, and will help the first lady set and carry out her policy agenda.
Last but not least, a smattering of other essential roles that will be led by women starting on Inauguration Day 2021, in no particular order. This diverse cast of empowered women will round out our list of White House feminists, but they’re setting the tone for the future (it’s female!), so more will surely follow.
Cecilia Rouse, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
Rouse is the Dean of the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs, and has served in various positions during the Obama and Clinton administrations. If confirmed, she’ll be the first woman of color to hold this position.
Neera Tanden, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
She’s the President and CEO for the Center of American Progress and a polarizing figure in progressive politics, but she’s feminist AF and will be the first woman of color and South Asian American in this role all the same. In the past, she’s served as an advisor to Hillary Clinton and as a consultant for the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama Administration.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the UN
She’s a career diplomat with three decades of experience and an all-around (s)hero. Under Trump, this role was demoted, but Biden will reestablish it as part of his Cabinet and in anticipation of the transition, Linda has said in interviews: “diplomacy is back.”
Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative
Tai, the top U.S. Trade Representative lawyer on China during the Obama administration, will play a huge role in rebuilding key relationships during Biden’s after Trump’s fairly isolationist leadership. If confirmed, she’ll be the first woman of color to hold this position. It’s about time.
Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control
She’s the Chief of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In this new CDC role, she’ll play an integral part in stopping the spread of the pandemic as well as vaccine delivery and strategies.
Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence
Former Deputy Director of the CIA (from 2013 to 2015) and Deputy National Security Advisor to Obama. And if she’s confirmed, she’ll be the first woman to fill this role. H to the yes.
Gina McCarthy, Climate Czar / White House Climate Coordinator
She led the Environmental Protection Agency during President Obama’s second term and served as CEO for the National Resources Defense Council. She’s been named Climate Czar by Biden, which has to be the coolest title available (it remains to be seen; we’ll keep you posted).
Susan Rice, White House Domestic Policy Council Director
She was Obama’s National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the United Nations, but now she’ll oversee the administration’s approach to issues such as immigration, health care, and racial inequality.
Adewale Adeyemo, Deputy Secretary of Treasury
She’s the current President of the Obama Foundation in Chicago, and a former Senior Economic Advisor during the administration. She’ll will serve under Janet Yellen in the Treasury Department.
TL;DR: The White House is opening its doors to more feminists and empowered women than ever before on Inauguration Day this year. If you can’t get into our whole crash course, do yourself a favor and hit the highlights: Kamala Harris, Deb Haaland, Jen Psaki, and Linda Thomas Greenfield to name a few.
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