- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2021

President Biden on Thursday convened his first in-person Cabinet meeting since taking office, tapping a handful of his top officials to sell his newly announced $2.25 trillion infrastructure and climate package.

Mr. Biden said he is directing Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to explain the plan to Americans.

The $2.25 trillion package Mr. Biden announced Wednesday, which would be paid for over time with corporate tax increases, is the first part of a multipart legislative plan that is expected to include spending on health care and child care.

“Working with my team here in the White House, these Cabinet members will represent me in dealing with Congress, engage the public in selling the plan and help work out the details as we refine it and move forward,” the president said at the beginning of the meeting, which lasted about two hours. 

Mr. Biden also directed his entire Cabinet to take a “hard look” at agency spending and make sure departments are complying with “Buy American” provisions.

The modified meeting was held in the East Room, rather than the smaller Cabinet Room in the West Wing, because of the pandemic.

Former President Donald Trump held his first Cabinet meeting on March 13, 2017, although he didn’t hold a “full” Cabinet meeting with all his confirmed secretaries and agency heads until three months later, on June 12. Former President Barack Obama held his first one on April 20, 2009.

Mr. Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting and others were notorious for the over-the-top praise his team would lavish upon him at the start of the gatherings, often in full view of the press.

Mr. Biden was the only person at Thursday’s meeting who spoke for the cameras during the few minutes when reporters were present.

The White House has repeatedly touted the diversity of Mr. Biden’s top-level picks. Of the 25 positions the White House includes as part of Mr. Biden’s Cabinet, eight have been filled or are slated to be filled by White men.

Mr. Biden is the first president since Ronald Reagan to have all of his core executive agency heads, which now number 15, confirmed on the first try, though the White House had to pull the nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget after lawmakers raised concerns about her past social media attacks on members of Congress.

The Senate got off to a relatively slow start on confirming Mr. Biden’s Cabinet-level picks. It took Senate leaders until two weeks after Inauguration Day to strike a deal allowing Democrats to take effective control of the 50-50 split chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaker.

But it ended up taking Mr. Biden 61 days to get his official Cabinet confirmed, compared to 97 days for Mr. Trump and 98 days for Mr. Obama, according to a tally from the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that tracks the workings of the federal government.

“They came out of the gate fast,” said Max Stier, the group’s president and CEO. 

Mr. Stier said Mr. Biden also outpaced his predecessors in getting non-Senate confirmed picks in early, but the roughly 1,200 positions needing Senate confirmation present a challenge for any administration.

“It’s sort of like starting the Super Bowl with your quarterback and center but not your offensive line,” he said. “The top leaders matter — having them in place is fundamental. But … these are very large, complex organizations and they’re designed to have in place a lot of other leaders that aren’t there. And that’s true for every administration for a long time.”

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