At a time of crisis, Berkeley policy experts join Biden administration

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have tapped a number of UC Berkeley leaders for their administration. (Photo by Adam Schultz via Biden for President)

With the United States struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, an economic meltdown and a surge of domestic terrorism, a team of top experts from UC Berkeley has been summoned to join the administration of incoming President Joe Biden.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are set to be inaugurated tomorrow in Washington, D.C., and the process of filling in administration leadership is still in its early stages. Already, though, three cabinet secretaries with Berkeley ties have been nominated — for the departments of Energy, Homeland Security and Treasury. Other Berkeley experts have been nominated or appointed for key positions to help lead legislative affairs, intergovernmental affairs and the Office of White House Counsel.

The new administration will immediately be confronted with a press of challenges and crises unprecedented in at least 75 years, and perhaps since the Civil War. But Chancellor Carol Christ said that Berkeley graduates and faculty are elite scholars who collectively have decades of high-level government experience, and she expressed pride in the new appointees.

“Since its beginning, our university has produced leaders committed to public service,” said Christ. “Like the campus community from which they come, these change-makers are remarkably diverse in terms of their origins, identities, perspectives and areas of expertise. I am confident they will help our nation take on the challenges and opportunities before us.”

Among the Biden administration nominations and appointments announced so far:

headshot of Jennifer Granholm

Jennifer Granholm

Jennifer Granholm, secretary of the Department of Energy

A two-term governor of Michigan, Granholm is an expert in the policy and politics of energy, and at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, she has taught classes in clean energy, policy innovation and communication.

“I’m so grateful to Berkeley and the Goldman School of Public Policy for giving me the ability to access great research talent and fabulous grad students passionate about clean energy,” said Granholm. “I will carry their hopes for a clean energy future with me to Washington, and if I’m confirmed, will focus with zeal on deploying clean energy in every pocket of the country, with an emphasis on communities that have been hardest hit by economic, racial and environmental injustice.”


headshot of Alejandro Mayorkas

Alejandro Mayorkas (Photo by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Mayorkas, who immigrated with his family from Cuba, graduated from Berkeley in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He would be the first Latinx and immigrant leader of DHS, one of largest domains in the federal government.

He previously worked at DHS during the Obama administration as deputy secretary and also as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Central District of California, with a focus on white-collar crime.


headshot of Janet Yellen

Janet Yellen (Photo by U.S. Federal Reserve)

Janet Yellen, secretary of the Department of the Treasury

Yellen has been a trailblazing economist and an influential teacher based in the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

She would be the first woman ever to serve as Treasury secretary, and in the post would play a critical role in helping Biden guide the nation’s economic recovery from a pandemic that has left millions unemployed and financially at risk. She was the first woman to serve as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, under President Bill Clinton, and the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, appointed by President Barack Obama.


headshot of Adewale "Wally" Adeyemo

Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo (Photo courtesy of Biden Harris Transition)

Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, deputy treasury secretary

Adeyemo was born in Gbongan, a large town in Nigeria’s Osun state, and was a baby when his parents emigrated with their three children to the U.S. He graduated from Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2004, after serving as president of the Associated Students of the University of California.

Adeyemo ascended quickly to a series of influential appointments. He joined the Obama administration in 2010 as chief of staff for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Later, he would be named deputy chief of staff for the Treasury Department, assistant secretary for international markets and development at the Treasury, and deputy director of the National Economic Council. Most recently, he has been president of the Obama Foundation.

“Public service is about offering hope through the dark times and making sure that our economy works not just for the wealthy, but for the hard-working people who make it run,” Adeyemo wrote in a recent tweet.


headshot of Julie Chavez Rodriguez

Julie Chavez Rodriguez (Photo from Obama White House archives)

Julie Chavez Rodriguez, director of Intergovernmental Affairs

Chavez Rodriguez, born in Delano, California, graduated from Berkeley in 2000 with a degree in Latin American studies. She rose through a range of high-level political management and policy positions, and in the Obama White House led engagement with leaders in the LGBTQ, Asian American Pacific Islander, Latinx, veterans, youth, labor and other communities.

Most recently, she served as national political director and traveling chief of staff for Harris’ presidential campaign, and then as deputy campaign manager for the Biden-Harris campaign. She is the granddaughter of César Chávez, the iconic labor organizer and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association.


Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo

Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo

Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo, associate counsel in the Office of White House Counsel

Born in Nigeria, Olorunnipa Badejo graduated from Berkeley Law in 2007. During the Obama administration, she worked in the U.S. Department of Justice and served as ethics counsel at the Office of White House Counsel.

She most recently has been general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.


headshot of Caroline McKay

Caroline McKay

Caroline McKay, chief of staff to White House Counsel Dana Remus and deputy associate counsel

While at Berkeley Law, McKay served as a law clerk on the Democratic staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She received her law degree in 2020 and served as staff counsel for the Biden-Harris campaign. She previously was a member of the founding team of Protect Democracy and, in the Obama administration, was a legal assistant in the Office of White House Counsel.


headshot of Reema Dodin

Reema Dodin (Photo courtesy Biden Harris Transition)

Reema Dodin, deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs

Dodin, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, graduated from Berkeley in 2002 with a degree in political science and economics. She served most recently as deputy chief of staff and floor director for the office of U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin.

Dodin is the co-author of Inside Congress: A Guide for Navigating the Politics of the House and Senate Floors (Brookings Institution Press, 2017).

A number of other Berkeley faculty members have played roles behind the scenes on the Biden-Harris transition team, helping to identify candidates for key administration appointments.

Public service has been a central focus of the Berkeley campus since the University of California was founded in 1868, and along with teaching and research, it is a core element in the UC’s mission.

Since 1895, eight graduates of Berkeley or its law school have served as governors of the California. One of them, Earl Warren, went on to become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of the pioneering women in California political history had Berkeley ties.