More Capitol Steps for New Englanders?

By John O. Harney

Last week, Inside Higher Ed reported that “President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is drawing significantly [from] the nation’s colleges and universities to prepare to take the reins of government on Jan. 20.”

A bit of déjà vu … In Spring 2009, when Barack Obama was stocking his first administration, NEJHE ran an item headlined “New England Goes to D.C.,” noting: “As they form their White House brain trusts, new presidents tend to mine two places for talent: their home states and New England—especially New England’s universities, and especially Harvard.”

Early Obama appointees with key New England connections, we noted, included “Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard University president and Clinton administration treasury secretary who was an early promoter of stimulus legislation. The first female dean of Harvard law school, Elena Kagan, was named solicitor general to represent the federal government in cases before the Supreme Court,” on which she would soon sit as a justice. Harvard professor of science and international affairs Ashton Carter, an authority on arms control, was tapped as under secretary and later secretary of defense. Harvard professor of environmental policy John Holdren was named director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Human genome researcher Eric Lander, a founding director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, became co-chair of Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. George Mitchell, the former Maine senator and U.S. Senate majority leader, was named Obama’s special envoy for the Middle East. Hillary Clinton, a Wellesley College alumna, was named secretary of state. Another Wellesley grad, Katie Johnson, became Obama’s personal secretary.

This time around, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management at Yale School of Medicine, was named one of three co-chairs on Biden’s COVID-19 taskforce. Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, a Tufts graduate who grew up in Franklin, Mass. and was Biden’s campaign manager, will be deputy chief of staff in the White House. Other local appointments so far include: Annie Tomasini, who served as director of intergovernmental relations at Harvard;  Dana Remus, a Harvard grad and New Hampshire native, was appointed counsel to the president; Harvard grad Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon will serve as chief of staff to First Lady Jill Biden.

Meanwhile, Maine newspapers began pondering cabinet positions for U.S. Sen. Angus King (Intelligence) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (Agriculture). In Southern New England, the guessing was about U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (Defense) and former National Teacher of the Year U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (Education). U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been considered for treasury secretary and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for labor secretary (though Democrats may be wary of ceding seats in a closely divided Senate). The names of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (Labor) and Massachusetts AG Maura Healey (Justice) have also been bandied about.



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