Haaland, Granholm, and Other Women Make History in Presidential Cabinet

Maggie Dewane

March 22, 2021

Kamala Harris. Janet Yellen. Deb Haaland. Gina Raimondo. Marcia Fudge. Jennifer Granholm. 

They’re making history as members of the largest group of women ever to serve on a presidential Cabinet. Haaland and Yellen are the first women in their positions, and Haaland is also the first Native American Cabinet secretary.

President Biden has appointed five additional women to Cabinet-level positions, including Cecilia Rouse as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and Isabel Guzman as Small Business Administrator. Four of these five are Black, Asian American, or Latina. In total, women comprise nearly half of Biden’s Cabinet.

Women have been fighting for equality in this country for over a century — from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, to the Women’s Strike of 1970, to the Women’s March in 2017. For women who are Black American, Asian American, or Native American, the fight has been even harder. 

Today, the women of President Biden’s Cabinet stand on the shoulders of these moments and the trailblazing women who have come before, including Patricia Roberts Harris, the first Black woman to hold a position as Cabinet secretary (1977); Elaine Chao, the first Asian American woman to earn the distinction (2001); and Hilda Solis, the first Latina Cabinet secretary (2009). 

The women of Biden’s Cabinet wield enormous influence on how best to connect good governance with today’s social movements. Americans deserve a responsive government, one that works to enfranchise those who have been shut out of our democracy, particularly people and communities in the crosshairs of climate change and toxic pollution, those who are routinely denied economic opportunity, and those whose workplaces are unsafe or unhealthy.

In that vein, the Center for Progressive Reform’s Policy for A Just America initiative envisions a government that works for all people and our planet. To create a sustainable future, America needs an energy revolution that is clean, equitable, and just. To achieve that vision, Energy Secretary Granholm must make energy justice a focus of her energy policy agenda. 

Fortunately, CPR Member Scholar on leave Shalanda Baker has also been tapped by the Biden administration to serve in the Department of Energy. As deputy director for energy justice and the secretary’s advisor on equity, she has the opportunity to work with Granholm to develop an energy efficiency program for low-income communities, incentivize clean energy job training programs in disenfranchised communities, and prioritize a plethora of projects and research that are behind schedule.

Following the example of Hazel O’Leary — the first woman and first Black person to become Secretary of Energy — Granholm should push the department in the direction of innovation, investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy research, both of which were pillars of O’Leary’s tenure in the Clinton administration.

Granholm will work closely with Interior Secretary Haaland, whose agency oversees the country’s energy projects on public lands. Haaland has inherited an agency that the Trump administration systematically tried to dismantle and made as industry-friendly as possible — shrinking national monuments, gutting endangered species protections, throwing open the doors to fossil fuel extraction, and more.

Though Haaland faces significant challenges, she can begin to reverse harmful policies and ensure our public lands are conserved and used in ways that benefit us all. She should prioritize restoring Obama-era protections repealed by Trump and restore curbs and limitations on harmful pollutants that threaten public and environmental health. Public protections, including safe drinking water for all and worker health amid climate change, are integral to building a just America. 

The women of President Biden’s Cabinet bring a depth of expertise and reflect the diversity of lived experiences in our country. They are poised to define an era of governance that restores public trust, reworks democratic processes, and knocks down barriers to justice and equity while creating policies that work for everyone.

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