One day after announcing his massive infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden held his first in-person Cabinet meeting Thursday afternoon at the White House, tasking five members of his Cabinet to take the lead on selling the proposal to the American people -- and Congress.
In brief remarks at the top of the meeting, Biden announced that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo would take on the additional responsibility.
In conjunction with his White House staff, Biden said the group of former mayors and governors will "represent me in dealing with Congress, engage the public ... and help work out the details as we refine it and move forward."
"I want to thank them in advance for the role they're going to play with this added assignment I'm asking them to take on. And we'll be discussing that today, among other things," Biden said of the meeting, at which the new infrastructure proposal was expected to be a major topic of conversation.
Biden also issued a directive to his Cabinet members as they work to advance his agenda, asking them to follow through on the "Buy American" executive action he took back in January "to make sure that when the government is spending taxpayers’ money that they're spending it on American-made goods, American corporations and American employees."
"Today, I'm directing every member of the Cabinet, I mean this sincerely, everyone, to take a hard look at their agency spending and make sure it follows my 'Buy American' standard," Biden told the group. "I'm going to ask you all to report back to me at the next Cabinet meeting."
The 25-person meeting included the 15 confirmed head of departments, plus seven Cabinet-level department heads, including Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. Biden’s initial choice for the role, Neera Tanden, withdrew her nomination due to opposition in the Senate.
Vice President Kamala Harris and White House chief of staff Ron Klain, both members of the Cabinet, were also in attendance, along with nine senior members of the White House staff, including National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients.
The meeting looked different than previous ones as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of taking place in the Cabinet Room, the traditional venue, the group gathered in the East Room to abide by public health guidelines and allow for social distancing.
The gathering was timed to follow Biden’s launch of the first portion of his new infrastructure plan, a multi-trillion-dollar proposal aimed at traditional infrastructure projects to repair roads, rails and bridges, but which also includes billions to expand broadband internet access, community-based care for elderly Americans and investments in clean energy.
"It's not a plan that tinkers around the edges," Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh Wednesday. "It's a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we've seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago. In fact, it's the largest American jobs investment since World War II."
The meeting was expected to focus on not only infrastructure and the role Cabinet members will play but also the continued implementation and communication on Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, according to a White House official.
The press availability at the top of the meeting drew a sharp contrast with former President Donald Trump’s lengthier press availability during his first Cabinet meeting in June 2017, during which members of his Cabinet offered effusive praise for the then-president, who offered his own praise for his administration’s accomplishments despite no major legislation having yet passed through Congress.
No members of Biden's Cabinet spoke during the brief press availability, which lasted less than two minutes.