Georgians rumored for Biden Cabinet seeing shrinking options

Georgians who only a few weeks ago were rumored as potential Joe Biden Cabinet picks are seeing their options diminish more each day.

On Wednesday, Biden announced his choice of retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who was born in Mobile, Alabama, and raised in Thomasville, to become the first Black secretary of defense. Outside of Austin, however, other prominent Georgians who supported the president-elect, such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, may not be making the move to Capitol Hill.

Earlier this week, Biden reportedly offered the secretary of Housing and Urban Development to U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a job for which Bottoms had been rumored to be a contender.

According to The Associated Press, Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, who just lost a reelection bid, and federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland are the leading contenders for attorney general. Atlanta’s Sally Yates was once rumored to be in contention for the post.

Jones and Garland, whose Supreme Court nomination was snubbed by Republicans when Barack Obama was president, appear positioned ahead of other rivals. Democrats are reportedly concerned about Yates because of her role in issues related to the Russia investigation.

Former acting U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates speaks at DNC 2020.

Jones, who is white, has had a longstanding personal relationship with Biden dating to Biden’s first presidential campaign in 1988. The former U.S. attorney prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan who were responsible for a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, and later served as the U.S. attorney there from 1997 until 2001.

Garland was nominated by Obama for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, but Republicans refused to hold hearings in the final year of Obama’s term. The vacancy was later filled by Justice Neil Gorsuch during the Trump administration.

Yates’ supporters view her nearly 30-year Justice Department career in Democratic and Republican administrations, and experience ranging from civil rights cases to national security matters, as making her uniquely qualified to lead the department as it looks to move on from the Trump era.

Still, Republican senators would be likely to focus a Yates confirmation hearing on her final year at the department, when the FBI closed out the Hillary Clinton email investigation and opened an investigation into whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia, which later morphed into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Yates has repeatedly discussed both, including before the Senate committee that has oversight of the confirmation process. She has made clear that she disagreed with the way the FBI conducted some of the most heavily scrutinized actions of both investigations, including the decision to hold a news conference about the Clinton probe and then to alert Congress days before the election that it had been reopened.

Even so, Republicans would nonetheless press Yates on problems with the Russia probe that were revealed by a Justice Department inspector general investigation, including errors and omissions in applications to surveil a former Trump campaign aide, and about how she would handle a special counsel inquiry focused on the FBI’s actions in that case.

Yates has said she would not have signed off on the surveillance had she known of the problems in the applications. But the appointment of John Durham as a special counsel to review the Russia probe suggests the inquiry is likely to endure into the Biden administration, creating a backward-looking focus for a new attorney general just as Yates would try to turn the page from the issue.

Biden has viewed Fudge as a leading voice for working families and a longtime champion of affordable housing, infrastructure and other priorities. As news outlets started reporting Fudge’s selection as HUD secretary, she said on Capitol Hill that it would be “an honor and a privilege” to be asked to join Biden’s Cabinet, though she didn’t confirm she had been picked.

“It is something in probably my wildest dreams I would have never thought about. So if I can help this president in any way possible, I am more than happy to do it,” she said Tuesday evening.

A longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee and a fierce advocate for food stamps, Fudge was originally discussed to become agriculture secretary. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat who gave Biden a key nod of support in the primaries, had strongly backed her, saying, “It’s one thing to grow food, but another to dispense it, and nobody would be better at that than Marcia Fudge.”

Fudge’s appointment would cut into the Democrats’ slim majority in the House. And while her seat is considered safely Democratic, an election for her replacement may be months off.

Another Georgian once reported to be high on a list of potential Biden appointees is Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost a Georgia gubernatorial bid in 2018. Abrams has been concentrating her recent efforts on massive voter registration efforts, which contributed to Biden’s narrow victory in the Peach State.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.