WASHINGTON – Joe Biden will convene his first Cabinet meeting on Thursday, a presidential rite of passage that will be used to promote his new infrastructure plan. The gathering will look very different from those held by his predecessor.
To begin with, the full Cabinet won’t meet in the room that bears its name, instead assembling in the more spacious East Room to allow for social distancing. All attendees, including the president, will wear masks. Also, the afternoon meeting probably will not include the over-the-top tributes to the chief executive that came to define Cabinet meetings held by President Donald Trump.
The timing of the first meeting was deliberate: a week after the full Cabinet was confirmed and a day after Biden was poised to release his infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh, which will likely dominate Washington through the summer and shape next year’s midterm elections.
With the sales blitz for the plan just beginning, the focus of the meeting will be on how the package can help across government, as well on continuing to emphasize the benefits of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Biden signed into law this month, said White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates.
Cabinet meetings in the modern era are less about setting administration policy than ensuring that all the government agencies are on the same page, say former officials. The sessions also are an opportunity for the president to make his priorities and values clear. Policy debates are generally reserved for smaller, subject-specific gatherings of Cabinet officials and senior advisers, such as the National Security Council and the Domestic Policy Council.
“As the federal government has become increasingly complex over the years, the role of the Cabinet has evolved as well," said Chris Lu, President Barack Obama’s first-term Cabinet secretary. “In addition to serious policy discussions, Cabinet meetings are an opportunity for the president to lay out broad directions for how his team should operate."
“The meetings can help align priorities, build morale, and allow Cabinet members to develop relationships with colleagues who they don’t normally see,” Lu said.
All 16 permanent members of the Cabinet — the vice president and heads of the executive departments, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin — will attend in person. So will other Cabinet-ranked officials, including White House chief of staff Ron Klain and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.