In Historic First, Biden Picks Trans Woman, Dr. Rachel Levine, to Help Lead HHS

President-elect Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that he would nominate Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be his assistant secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS). If Levine is approved by the Senate, she would be the first openly transgender federal official in a Senate-confirmed position.

“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” said Biden in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

Levine is currently leading Pennsylvania’s response to COVID-19 and, in her new role, will serve alongside Biden’s pick for the head of HHS, California’s Xavier Becerra. She has been confirmed as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health three times by the state’s Republican-controlled Senate.

“President-elect Biden said throughout his campaign that his administration would represent America,” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Washington Post. “Today, he made clear that transgender people are an important part of our country.”

The coronavirus pandemic has been especially tough on trans people, both economically and mentally. Levine herself has faced abuse from members of the media and the public while she’s been leading the pandemic response in her state. During her time serving in Pennsylvania, she has advocated for and worked to expand healthcare access for LGBTQ populations.

A number of other Biden picks are appearing before Senate committees to be considered for their positions on Tuesday, including Janet Yellen, who Biden has picked as his treasury secretary.

On Sunday, Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain announced a number of executive orders that Biden plans to sign on his first day in office. The orders include ending Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, issuing a mask mandate on federal property and halting evictions and student loan payments during the pandemic.

Klain also reaffirmed that Biden will fulfill a promise to rejoin the Paris climate agreement on “day one” via his first-day executive orders. Rejoining the Paris agreement, as Truthout has previously reported, is “square zero” for the climate.

“It is encouraging to see the Biden administration begin day one by following through with campaign promises, including rejoining the Paris Agreement,” Corporate Accountability’s U.S. Climate Campaign Director Sriram Madhusoodanan said in a statement. But “rejoining the Paris Agreement is simply the beginning…. We urge President-elect Biden and his administration to go far beyond this symbolic action.”

Biden is also reportedly planning to ax the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day, rescinding a federal permit that would allow for its construction. This is a major win for the climate and Indigenous activists who have been fighting against the pipeline, some since 2009.

Many of these announced orders and the nomination of Levine are just the start of what many on the left hope will be an overall progressive agenda for the new president and a Democratically-controlled Congress.

Biden’s inauguration is on Wednesday.