Joe Biden
Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr

Since it became clear that Joe Biden would be the Democratic presidential nominee, much of the focus has turned to who he will pick to be his running mate. All of that is completely understandable. But a case can be made that who he chooses for that position will be less important than the people he nominates for cabinet positions.

Most recently, that has been highlighted by the actions of the current attorney general. Dropping the charges against Michael Flynn was not only a betrayal of justice. Barr’s actions have also done deep and lasting damage to the entire Department of Justice, as David Kurtz explains.

The Justice Department is being dismantled as an independent, broadly legitimate, respected component in service of the rule of law…

The impacts go far beyond the particulars of a given case or the tenure of a single compromised attorney general. Good lawyers leave the department, as we have already seen. Marginal lawyers cut corners, clip their wings, and acquiesce in the corruption in small, imperceptible ways. Up and coming lawyers steer clear of a hollowed-out Justice Department and the wrong kinds of people are drawn to it.

The effects are generational. The repairs to undo the damage are not swift and cannot be sped up.

Should Biden become president, it will be his attorney general’s job to “undo the damage” of those generational effects—at least as much as possible.

But the problem goes way beyond the Justice Department. Especially since Trump has filled the federal bureaucracy with people whose only real skill is loyalty to him, the same thing is happening with Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, Mike Pompeo at the State Department, Alex Azar at the Department of Health and Human Services, Sonny Perdue at the Department of Agriculture, Andrew Wheeler at EPA, Ben Carson at HUD. The list goes on.

In every case, the mission of those departments has been corrupted and put in service to Trump’s ego, while staffing has been hollowed out and norms discarded. On that last one, for years now we’ve been hearing about how our intelligence services have reduced the Presidential Daily Briefing to a couple of pages made up of charts and pictures, which Trump basically ignores. We also know that Trump has thrown out the norm of a wall of separation between the president and his attorney general.

This is where voters might have been wise in choosing Biden as the nominee. He has eight years of experience working in a functional administration, so he knows which norms are critical to reinstate and how to do so. But just as important is the fact that he has working experience with a host of people who are probably eager to step up to the plate and begin the process of repairing the damage. That isn’t limited to people who served in Obama’s cabinet, but all of the undersecretaries and staffers who played such critical roles in policy implementation.

I’m not suggesting that Biden should announce his cabinet picks before the election. There are very good reasons why candidates have chosen not to do so in the past. But ever since he entered the Democratic primary, I have thought that the former vice president’s biggest asset was that he would be ready to hit the ground running on day one. With our relationships around the globe in tatters and domestic affairs corrupted, that becomes a priority. Getting this country’s feet back on solid ground has to happen as quickly as possible in order for us to start moving forward.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.