Being a member of the president’s cabinet can be a high-pressure job, no matter who sits in the Oval Office. So it makes sense that just over two years into President Biden’s administration, some of his primary recruits are headed for the exits. Last Tuesday, it was announced that Labor Secretary Marty Walsh would resign as executive director of the NHL Players’ Union. And Wednesday was Ron Klein’s last day as White House chief of staff.
But compared to other modern presidents (especially his immediate predecessors), Biden’s cabinet has had unusually low turnover. Biden is tied with former presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush for the fewest cabinet resignations in the first two years of their presidencies. For Biden, Klein was the second cabinet-level official to resign. Former Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Eric Lander resigned in February 2022. But that job wasn’t even part of the president’s cabinet until Biden was promoted to that position. Had Biden not promoted the OSTP director to cabinet level, he would have gone his first two years without any turnover in his cabinet — something that didn’t happen until at least the late 1970s.
The chart below shows how many of the 25 offices that make up Biden’s cabinet have resigned in each of the last eight presidential administrations. It does not include “acting” cabinet members who moved for permanent appointments, but shows when someone resigns from a cabinet post to another cabinet post.
Biden’s administration looks like a model of stability next to most of these people — and especially next to former President Donald Trump. Trump has burned through staff at a record rate: He’s the only recent president to lose more than one cabinet member in his first year in office (he lost three). And he saw eight people leave those 25 positions in his second year, more than any other recent president. All of this turnover contributed to a narrative of chaos and disorganization in the Trump administration, which Biden sought to capitalize on when challenging Trump in 2020; As Politico magazine put it, the country voted to “make politics boring again.” Based on the stability of his administration, Biden has succeeded.
At least until now. As the chart makes clear, cabinet turnover tends to increase midway through a president’s first term. The average presidential administration from Carter to Trump saw 0.7 people leave office in the first year and 3.6 in the second year; However, an average of 4.7 people left over three years. So it’s reasonable to assume that more cabinet members will follow Klein and Walsh out the door in the coming months. But when they do, it won’t be a sign of turmoil within the Biden administration, just normal turnover for this point in the president’s tenure. After all, nearly every one of Biden’s advisers has been on the job for more than two years now — and those jobs aren’t easy.
Maya Swidler contributed research.