In the past year, a number of Yale affiliates and alumni have been tapped for various prominent positions within the Biden administration.
Yale has historically had a strong connection to the executive branch, with many Yale graduates going on to serve in several presidential administrations. The trend has continued with numerous alumni now serving in President Biden’s new administration, including Janet Yellen GRD ’71, John Kerry ’66 and Vivek Murthy MED ’03 SOM ’03. Other Yale affiliates, such as Marcella Nunez-Smith and Cristina Rodriguez ’95 LAW ’00, have also been selected to lead several presidential commissions and advisory boards.
“There is a long and proud history of service among Yale alumni — for country, community, and fellow Yalies,” Weili Cheng, executive director of the Yale Alumni Association, wrote in an email to the News. “We’re delighted to see that continue with the incoming administration, and we wish them, and everyone who will serve and continues to serve, all the very best in months and years to come.”
Weeks after the 2020 election on Nov. 23, Biden announced his first set of picks for key national security, foreign policy and economic positions. Among the appointees for the national security team were Yale alumni and former Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 and former National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan ’98 LAW ’03. Kerry, who is also a distinguished fellow for global affairs at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, was tapped to be the first-ever special presidential envoy for climate. Sullivan was named to the position of national security advisor. As a student at Yale, Sullivan held prominent positions at the News and the Yale Law Journal. He has also served as a visiting lecturer at the Law School.
Biden’s first picks to the economic team included Janet Yellen GRD ’71, former chair of the Federal Reserve. Yellen was nominated for the position of treasury secretary and was confirmed by the Senate in January. She received a doctorate in economics from Yale, and graduated as the only woman in her doctoral class. Yellen was the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve and is now the first woman to lead the Treasury Department.
Among the President’s other picks to the economic team were Neera Tanden LAW ’96 and Adewale Adeyemo LAW ’09. Tanden and Adeyemo were nominated for the roles of director of the Office of Management and Budget and deputy treasury secretary, respectively. In March, Biden stated that Tanden had asked for her nomination to be dropped after it became clear she did not have sufficient votes for a Senate confirmation. Tanden faced congressional opposition due to past social media posts that had criticized lawmakers in both parties. Adeyemo was confirmed by the Senate in March, making him the first Black deputy treasury secretary.
In February, four more Yale alumni were appointed to Biden’s administration. Brian Deese LAW ’09 and Gina Raimondo LAW ’98 were nominated to President Joe Biden’s economic team as director of the National Economic Council and secretary of commerce, respectively. Maggie Thomas ENV ’15 was named chief of staff of the new Office of Domestic Climate Policy. Thomas subsequently withdrew her candidacy for the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, per White House ethics rules. Murthy was named the surgeon general after serving in the same position under former President Barack Obama. Murthy and Raimondo were both confirmed by the Senate in March.
“I’m proud to work for a president who knows we need to go far beyond the Paris Agreement,” Deese said during a video released by Biden’s transition team. “I will focus everyday on the bold, new actions we need to take to combat the climate crisis, to protect our communities, to make our communities more resilient, to address the racial inequities at the core of our climate crisis.”
Many Yale faculty and alumni also serve on various groups created by Biden to address issues ranging from the pandemic to Supreme Court reform. In November, Biden appointed three public health experts connected to Yale to lead his new COVID-19 advisory board. The board guided the administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, including efforts to manage rising infections and vaccine approval.
Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management at the Yale School of Medicine, co-chaired the committee, along with Murthy and David Kessler, a former dean of Yale School of Medicine and former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Our country is facing an unprecedented time with COVID-19 cases accelerating nationwide,” said Nunez-Smith in November. “The transition advisory board is setting a course for everyone in our country to experience recovery. I’m honored to help lead on that work and thank President-elect Joe Biden for the opportunity to serve.”
In April, 17 Yale College and Yale Law School affiliates were selected to be part of the 36-member Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court created by President Biden. Among them include Rodriguez, a professor at Yale Law School, who was named co-chair of the commission. She will serve alongside Law School Dean Heather Gerken, law professor Jack Balkin, law professor Justin Driver and 13 other Yale affiliates. The commission consists of a bipartisan group of experts that will be looking at various issues related to the Supreme Court and its reforms.
“I do think there is something really unique about the fact that certain Yalies decide to make a difference in the world,” said E.J. Crawford, senior director of communications and marketing of the Yale Alumni Association. “I think there is something special about the people who are able to take what they’ve learned and translate it into improving the lives of other people. I think that’s a really noble goal, and the fact that you see so many people from Yale doing so, I think is very admirable.”
Biden’s administration counts 29 Yale graduates serving as White House aides, according to Politico.