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Equity Forward's Tracking of the Biden-Harris Administration Transition

EF Staff | Fact Sheets

On November 7, 2020, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were announced winners of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Since then, Equity Forward’s research team has tracked the names of nominees and appointees to key cabinet and leadership positions which have purview over our main issue areas regarding abortion, reproductive health and justice, and policies singularly impacting LGBTQ communities. 

How We are Categorizing Cabinet Member Candidates, Appointees 

As cabinet members of the Biden-Harris administration are shortlisted and nominated, Equity Forward’s research team has coded each appointee with one of the below designations. These categorizations are not meant to be static, but rather, inform expectations around appointees and the policies under their purviews, which we will continue tracking. 

Green: This person has a clearly demonstrated history of advancing reproductive health, LGBTQ rights, and/or other human rights.

Yellow: This person has peripheral instances of involvement with efforts undermining reproductive health, LGBTQ rights, and/or other human rights; and/or this person has developed toward a more humane framework. 

Red: This person has a substantial and demonstrated history of attacking reproductive health, LGBTQ rights, and/or other human rights.

Category to be Determined: Initial research provided insufficient information to allow EF to apply a rating to this candidate. 



Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Joshua Sharfstein, Candidate for FDA Commissioner: Joshua Sharfstein has extensive medical, public health, and healthcare policy experience stemming from leadership roles at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the City of Baltimore. Sharfstein was appointed as the Principal Deputy Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the Obama administration. Sharfstein has publicly condemned the inhumane treatment of people detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Sharfstein authored public commentary supporting the use of fetal tissue in research, abortion, and contraception access. AP News reported Sharfstein as a potential pick for FDA Commissioner on December 3, 2020. 

Janet Woodcock, Acting FDA Commissioner and Candidate for FDA Commissioner: Janet Woodcock is a career civil servant of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who has served in various leadership roles at the FDA under both Democratic and Republican administrations since 1986. In 2003, Woodcock expressed harmful and false claims about access to Plan B during the review process of making Plan B more readily available. In recent years, Woodcock expressed support for evidence-based decisions regarding the approval of Plan B as an over-the-counter product and the approval of a protocol to expand the use of medication abortion. In recent months, Woodcock received criticism for her lack of oversight of the opioid crisis while serving as chief of the FDA’s Drug Division. In April 2021, under Woodcock’s direction, the FDA lifted Trump administration bans on dispensing abortion pills via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Equity Forward has labeled Woodcock as green with caution due to previous harmful claims she made around reproductive health care access but acknowledges Woodcock has since made progress. Woodcock has served as Acting FDA Commissioner since January 2021 and is also reportedly under consideration to fill the FDA Commissioner role permanently.

Xavier Becerra, HHS Secretary: Xavier Becerra has extensive political experience stemming from twelve terms in Congress within the U.S. House of Representatives and one term as a representative in the California State Legislature. Becerra has served as California’s Attorney General since 2017 and was announced as Biden’s pick for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on December 6, 2020. As a former U.S. Representative, Becerra acted with a strong reproductive and human rights voting record. As California’s Attorney General, Becerra staunchly defended reproductive rights and immigrant rights. Becerra was confirmed by the Senate as HHS Secretary on March 18, 2021.

Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General: Vivek Murthy has extensive public health and presidential advisement experience stemming from previous roles as the U.S. Surgeon General and as a public health advisee within the Obama administration. Murthy served as a public health advisor to the Biden-Harris team in March 2020 on the campaign trail and now leads the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. During his time as U.S. Surgeon General, Murthy publicly condemned domestic and international use of conversion therapy. Murthy actively speaks out against political ideology taking precedence over evidence-based science at the federal level and has signaled support for access to contraception and choice in reproductive health. On December 3, 2020 Politico reported that Murthy will return to his role as surgeon general, with an expanded responsibility of acting as the “top medical expert and public face” of the Biden-Harris administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Murthy’s candidacy was listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Murthy was confirmed by the Senate as U.S. Surgeon General on March 23, 2021.

Rachel Levine, Assistant Health Secretary: Dr. Rachel Levine has served as the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health since 2017. She has received praise for her work on Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, combating the opioid crisis, and most recently her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Levine has supported initiatives to decrease maternal mortality, improve health outcomes for LGBTQ communities, and protect access to abortion and birth control. Levine is a trained pediatrician and alumnae of Harvard College and Tulane University School of Medicine who has championed health equity for all and shown strong public health leadership. Once confirmed as assistant secretary of health, she will be the highest ranking, openly transgender, federal official. Dr. Levine was confirmed by the Senate on March 24, 2021.

Loyce Pace, Office of Global Affairs Director: Loyce Pace has extensive experience in the field of global health leading numerous organizations' initiatives, including her most recent role as President and Executive Director of the Global Health Council. Pace also served as a member of the Biden-Harris administration's COVID-19 Advisory Board. Pace advocates for advancing racial justice, health equity, reproductive rights, and decolonizing global health. Pace's appointment was announced on March 2, 2021 and is listed on HHS' website.

Andrea Palm, HHS Deputy Secretary: Andrea Palm has federal leadership experience stemming from previous roles within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Palm was a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council under the Obama administration and served as senior health policy advisor to former U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. While Palm has rarely spoken publicly about her stances on human rights issues, Palm has demonstrated openness towards reproductive rights and condemned the Trump administration’s attacks on healthcare access for LGBTQ people. Palm most recently served as Secretary-Designee for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. AP News reported Palm's appointment on January 18, 2021.

Cindy Huang, Office of Refugee Resettlement Director: Cindy Huang was most recently the Vice President of Strategic Outreach at Refugees International and Director of the Refugee Advocacy Lab. Huang has spent most of her professional career in humanitarian and international policy organizations, including five years at the State Department under the Obama administration as a policy director for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations and senior advisor to the Counselor and Chief of Staff. Huang has signaled strong support for reproductive, LGBTQ, refugee, and human rights. Huang's appointment was announced on March 2, 2021 and is listed on HHS' website.

Marcella Nunez-Smith, COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Chair: Nunez-Smith served as co-chair of the Biden-Harris Transition’s COVID-19 Advisory Board in November 2020. Nunez-Smith’s most recent roles include leading the Equity Research and Innovation Center and serving as associate professor of general internal medicine at the Yale School of Medicine. Nunez-Smith has devoted her career to combatting health disparities and is a fierce advocate for advancing health equity, particularly among BIPOC communities. Nunez-Smith has also signaled support for advancing other human rights, including immigrant and LGBTQ rights. Nunez-Smith's appointment was announced on December 8, 2021 and is listed on the HHS Office of Minority Health's website.

Jessica Marcella, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs: Jessica Marcella is a longtime advocate of reproductive health, rights, and justice. She has held several policy and advocacy roles, in government offices, and public affairs and advocacy organizations. Her most recent role was vice president at the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, a membership organization which represents providers and administrators of Title X clinics. Marcella’s appointment signals an abrupt departure of the previous administration’s restrictive reproductive health agenda. Marcella's appointment was reported by POLITICO on May 11, 2021 and officially announced by HHS on May 25, 2021.

Stephanie Psaki, Senior Advisor on Human Rights and Gender Equity at the Office of Global Affairs: Stephanie Psaki was appointed senior advisor on human rights and gender equity within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Global Affairs in March 2021. Most recently, Psaki served as director of Population Council’s Girl Innovation Research and Learning Center. Throughout her career, Psaki has led various research initiatives that explored barriers to gender equity. Psaki expressed support for evidence-based policies to advance gender equity and other human rights internationally. Psaki also signaled support for reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights internationally.

Department of Justice (DOJ) 

Merrick Garland, Attorney General: Merrick Garland, a federal appeals judge for the influential D.C. circuit, is well-known for his unsuccessful nomination process to the Supreme Court due to opposition by Senate Republicans. In 2017, Garland ruled in favor of the reproductive rights of a young undocumented immigrant, but he otherwise has no discernable judicial record on reproductive or LGBTQ rights. Garland has received mixed reviews for his judicial decisions regarding human rights. During his confirmation hearing, Garland did not convey a direct opinion on abortion rights, but he made favorable comments on LGBTQ and human rights. In written responses for the record, Garland made measured but favorable comments on Equity Forward’s issue areas. Garland's candidacy was reported on January 6, 2021 and is listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Garland was confirmed by the Senate as Attorney General on March 10, 2021.

Lisa Monaco, Deputy Attorney General: Lisa Monaco is a 15-year veteran of the Department of Justice and was recently President Obama’s advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism. Monaco was tapped as a temporary homeland security adviser for the Biden-Harris inauguration. Monaco has been praised by organizations for reproductive and LGBTQ rights, and she has upheld human rights by speaking out against the injustices of the Trump administration and working on the Violence Against Women Act. While reproductive rights organizations have supported Monaco’s nomination, she has not made direct statements in favor of reproductive rights—so Equity Forward will continue to keep a close eye on her track record. Monaco's candidacy was reported on January 6, 2021 and is listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Monaco was confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Attorney General on April 20, 2021.

Vanita Gupta, Associate Attorney General: Vanita Gupta is currently the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference On Civil and Human Rights. Her most recent government position was Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. Throughout her career, Gupta has affirmed her strong support of reproductive, LGBTQ, and human rights. Gupta's candidacy was reported on January 6, 2021 and is listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Gupta was confirmed by the Senate as Associate Attorney General on April 21, 2021.

Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights: Kristen Clarke is the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and has prior experience with the Justice Department as a trial attorney for its Civil Rights division. Throughout her career, Clarke has demonstrated strong support for reproductive, LGBTQ, and human rights. Clarke's candidacy was reported on January 6, 2021 and is listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Clarke was confirmed by the Senate as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights on May 25, 2021.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Alejandro Mayorkas, DHS Secretary: Alejandro Mayorkas held leadership roles in the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama Administration, having served as deputy secretary and director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mayorkas is the son of Cuban-Jewish immigrants who fled the Castro revolution. He mentioned his lived experience with U.S. immigration as a guiding influence for his new role. Immigrant rights advocates have praised Mayorkas’ appointment to lead DHS. Mayorkas' candidacy was reported on November 23, 2020 and is listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Mayorkas was confirmed by the Senate as DHS Secretary on February 2, 2021.

State Department

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State: Antony Blinken has decades of foreign policy experience and is a longtime adviser to Joe Biden. He was U.S. Deputy Secretary of State under President Obama. While he demonstrates interventionist foreign policy tendencies, Blinken has pledged commitment to protecting reproductive and LGBTQ rights during the Biden-Harris administration. Blinken’s candidacy was reported on November 22, 2020 and is now listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Blinken was confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of State on January 26, 2021.

Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State: Wendy Sherman has had a long career in the political sphere. She began her career with positions related to social work and partisan politics, including leading EMILY’s List. Sherman moved into diplomacy under the Clinton administration and became a top U.S. diplomat who eventually served as lead negotiator on the Iran Deal. In her most recent position as Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, Sherman often criticized Trump’s State Department’s policies, and has voiced clear support for reproductive rights. Sherman was confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Secretary of State on April 13, 2021.

Sarah Margon, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor: Sarah Margon has dedicated her decades-long career to acquiring foreign policy expertise and advancing reproductive, LGBTQ, and human rights. She has held leadership roles at Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress and has served as a policy advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Margon's nomination was announced on April 23, 2021.

Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights: Uzra Zeya has worked for the U.S. State Department for almost three decades, where she has previously served as senior advisor, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Paris; acting assistant secretary at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and in numerous other roles. Throughout her career, Zeya has signaled strong support for reproductive and LGBTQ rights and gender equality. Zeya's nomination was reported on January 16, 2021.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) 

Samantha Power, USAID Administrator: On January 13, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden announced Samantha Power as his official nominee for USAID administrator. Power was influential in shaping the Obama-Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda, most notably as Ambassador to the United Nations. She has championed workplace protections and international safety for LGBTQ communities and signaled support for reproductive rights, but her overall human rights record has received mixed reviews. Power's candidacy is now listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Power was confirmed by the Senate as USAID Administrator on April 28, 2021.

U.S. Mission to the United Nations

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Ambassador to the United Nations: Linda Thomas-Greenfield is a 35-year veteran of the State Department, where she previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for African AffairsDirector General of the Foreign Service, and numerous other roles. Thomas-Greenfield has signaled support for reproductive and LGBTQ rights. Thomas-Greenfield’s candidacy was reported on November 23, 2020 and is listed on the Biden-Harris transition website. Thomas-Greenfield was confirmed by the Senate as Ambassador to the United Nations on February 23, 2021.

Elisabeth Millard, Acting Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council and Representative at the 2021 Commission on the Status of Women: Elisabeth Millard is a former ambassador to Tajikistan and is now the acting representative of the United States to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. As deputy head of the United States’ delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women, Millard highlighted the need for an intersectional approach to gender equality and combating gender-based violence. Throughout her career, Millard has advocated for human rights and supported the empowerment of women and girls in various policy fora.




Category To Be Determined 

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 

Luciana Borio, Candidate for FDA Commissioner: Luciana Borio is a medical doctor with expertise in infectious disease and pandemic response. With nearly a decade of federal work history, she has played vital roles in the nation’s response to the Ebola pandemic, Zika outbreak, and influenza. Currently she is a member of president-elect Biden’s coronavirus taskforce. AP News named Borio as a potential candidate on December 3, 2020. Initial research provided insufficient information to allow EF to apply a rating to this candidate as of December 16, 2020.


This fact sheet was originally published on December 1, 2020. Since then, it has been periodically updated. 

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