Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 12, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- President-elect Joe Biden made several Cabinet appointments this week, offering insight into the possible policy priorities of his administration, and areas of concern for Catholic institutions.
As CNA reported, Biden already appointed officials to the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services, sensitive departments which could have important repercussions on religious freedom issues both at home and abroad.
Biden’s selection of Obama-era officials Antony Blinken and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations could signal a continuance of that administration’s diplomatic approach to prioritizing LGBT rights while deemphasizing or taking a softer approach to promoting religious freedom.
Biden’s selection of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as HHS Secretary has also raised serious questions about the possible effect his leadership could have on issues central to Catholic organizations.
Becerra was involved in two Supreme Court cases against pro-life groups and the Little Sisters of the Poor, and aggressively enforced California’s abortion coverage mandate. His office also continued fighting pro-life activist David Daleiden in court for his publishing of undercover conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.
Also this week, Biden tapped Rep. Marcia Fudge to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The agency oversees policy in a number of areas of concern to Catholics, including homeless shelters and fair housing practices.
Rules from that agency have drawn criticism from the U.S. bishops’ conference under both the Obama and Trump administrations.
In 2016, the Obama HUD required shelters partnering with the government to accept clients based on their gender identity and allow them equal access to facilities—through the Equal Access Rule. Under the rule, for instances, biological males identifying as female would have to be housed with women and have access to women’s bathrooms.
The bishops said that the law “impeded” the ability of Catholic shelters to place clients based on their biological sex, and would threaten the security of women in single-sex housing.
Fudge supported keeping this rule, cosigning a July letter from members of Congress to the Trump administration asking them not to change it. She was also an original cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes in a number of areas, including housing.
This past summer, the USCCB was critical of the Trump HUD’s changes to federal fair housing rules. The conference said that the rule change—supposedly taken as an attempt to deregulate policy—weakened federal oversight against racial discrimination in housing practices.
Fudge has been hailed by groups like the National Fair Housing Alliance for her previous work to ensure equitable access to affordable housing.
Biden has also announced his pick of Susan Rice to head his Domestic Policy Council. Rice served in foreign policy circles in the Obama administration as Ambassador to the United Nations and then as National Security Advisor to President Obama.
Rice made promoting LGBT rights a priority in her work in the Obama administration, and has said that she is “pro-choice.” Planned Parenthood praised her appointment as UN ambassador, saying she would help bring “equality to women and women’s health around the world.”
In an August interview with NPR, Rice discussed her relationship with her son and areas of agreement and disagreement. “We disagree on things like choice. I’m pro-choice. He’s pro-life. That’s the kind of difference that we ought to be able to respect,” she said.
In 2016, Rice addressed an audience at American University about LGBT rights. Rice said that when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, she and her husband took a photo together outside the White House which was lit in rainbow colors.
“That Friday night of the landmark Supreme Court ruling, my husband I took a photo together that we cherish, outside of the White House lit up in the colors of the rainbow to celebrate what we’ve always known—that love is love is love,” she said.
Biden’s White House chief of staff will be Ron Klain, who previously served as his chief of staff when Biden was vice president.
In a June 11, 2019 op-ed in the Washington Post, Klain warned that the Supreme Court could overrule Roe v. Wade and “impose nationwide restrictions on abortion — even in pro-choice states — in the name of ‘fetal rights.’” During the campaign, Biden pledged to enact sweeping federal protections for unlimited abortion access in a bid to preclude future state limitations being placed on the practice.
Biden also made appointments to critical health care positions during the coronavirus pandemic. He tapped Vivek Murthy to be Surgeon General after he served in the position from Dec., 2014 until the end of Obama’s presidency.
Murthy supported the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate; at his confirmation hearing in 2014, he was asked by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) if he believed “contraception coverage should be mandatory regardless of religion.”
Murthy did not confirm or deny that, but answered that “I respect people’s individual beliefs and religious beliefs” and that as surgeon general he would “bring the science, not just to the public, but to legislators as well” to make policy decisions.
On the subject of vaccine mandates, Murthy spoke out in 2015 of the need for parents to vaccinate their children against diseases such as measles and expressed concern about the spread of disease in areas where large religious communities refuse vaccinations.
“When you’re in a pocket with low vaccination rates, that’s when you find yourself at greater risk of getting measles,” Murthy said in an interview with CBS News.
Biden has also tapped two other Catholics as cabinet heads—Gen. Lloyd Austin who, if confirmed, would serve as the first Black Defense Secretary, and Denis McDonough, former White House chief of staff under Obama, to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
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