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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Joe Biden's Cabinet offers less of a recipe for chaos than Donald Trump's team

Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department on

Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department on Thursday, his first day as attorney general. Credit: Pool via AP / Kevin Dietsch

So far at least, President Joe Biden's Cabinet is on track to operate without the kind of fiascoes that former President Donald Trump's first-year lineup produced. If conventional experience and credentials count, the appointments look like an upgrade. That's aside from the ideological change that occurs when there's a party switch at the White House.

Attorney General Merrick Garland’s career is steeped in the judicial system. He had served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997. Jeff Sessions, the first to lead the Justice Department in the last administration, was a key Trump campaign supporter and a longtime Alabama senator.

Sessions' main problem turned out to be his president, who isolated and denounced him for complying with an ethics suggestion that he recuse himself from the Russia-meddling probe. The rest is ugly history. Before his AG nomination, Garland's previous public engagement with the Senate was his endurance of GOP inaction on his Supreme Court nomination.

Whatever surprises Garland may bring, that Sessions uproar was one of a kind. The new attorney general's key pitch is that he will restore independence to the Justice Department, where Trump-enabler William Barr succeeded Sessions.

Antony Blinken presents a similar shift as secretary of state. For better or worse, he's steeped in the ways of the pre-Trump State Department. Rex Tillerson, Trump's first secretary of state, came from ExxonMobil, where he'd been chairman and chief executive officer from 2006 until 2017. Trump canned Tillerson in 2018 after bitter estrangement. The secretary even reportedly called the president a moron in earshot of other administration officials.

It would be hard to imagine the circumstances for a repeat performance by Biden and Blinken.

New Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan is tasked with playing a sharply different role from that of Trump's first occupant of the post. Regan, who headed North Carolina's environmental agency, is expected to dispense with the Trump administration's denial of climate change.

Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general sued the Obama-era EPA over its efforts against climate change, lasted a year and a half as Trump's EPA administrator. Pruitt resigned under fire, amid ethics probes that in part involved coziness with the fossil fuel industry.

As Trump's housing secretary, Ben Carson, a newcomer to the subject area, created distractions such as the spending of $31,561 on a set of dining room furniture for his office, in apparent violation of the rules. Former Rep. Marcia Fudge, the new leader at Housing and Urban Development, drew criticism in her confirmation process from Republicans who pointed to her lack of relevant experience. Her ambitious mission will be to renew the agency, which got reduced priority under Trump.

Cues come from the top. Biden is widely expected to let high-level appointees conduct business without the kind of abrupt, off-the-cuff interventions and demands for which his predecessor was known.

Last week, by the midpoint of Biden's first 100 days in office, 16 of his choices in need of Senate confirmation had gotten it, with another 17 awaiting approval. Early in the game as it still may be, the onset of Trumpian levels of internal chaos and conflict would be a huge surprise.

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