Lilly J. Goren and Susan Leibell

Jan 20, 2021


The Biden-Harris Administration’s Transition in Context

New Books Network 2020

As Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Dr. Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution joins the team at New Books in Political Science to discuss presidential transitions and how Biden’s cabinet picks compare with the previous six administrations. How does the transition in the United States compare to transitions in other nations? Dunn Tenpas clarifies how the U.S. moved from no exchange of information (e.g. Eisenhower rebuked Truman’s offer to discuss foreign policy before the transition) to the 1963 Presidential Transition Act to changes after the 9/11 attacks. Using remarkable comparative data from the last six administrations, Dunn Tenpas analyzes how Biden -- with 25% less time for his transition -- has managed to fill more positions than many modern presidents.

In assessing the diversity, strengths, and weaknesses of Biden’s cabinet, Dunn Tenpas notes the intense commitment to diversity that moves beyond the simple numbers of non-whites, or women in the Cabinet. In discussing some of these choices, Dunn Tenpas notes examples of the historic nature of some of these appointments, including the appointment of Janet Yellen as the first women to be appointed Secretary of the Treasury; or how Deb Haaland’s appointment as Secretary of the Interior has unique historical dimensions because she is the first Native American to helm that agency. Dunn Tenpas shares her own data and findings, and also directs listeners to other excellent sources such as Mike Memoli’s analysis at NBCnews noting that this transition has been in process since the spring of 2020, or Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk which examined some of the difficulties of previous presidential transitions (Norton, 2020).

From Dick Cheney’s living room transition planning to the empty offices assigned to Biden during COVID-19, this podcast is perfect for Inauguration Day 2021.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

Susan Liebell is an associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Why Diehard Originalists Aren’t Really Originalists recently appeared in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage and “Retreat from the Rule of Law: Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” was published in the Journal of Politics (July 2020). Email her comments at or tweet to @SusanLiebell.

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Susan Liebell

Susan Liebell is a Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

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