With the Trump administration having authorized the beginning of the formal transition process, President-elect Joe Biden is slowly naming the individuals he hopes will guide him through his first term as president and help shape his thinking in the years ahead.
Biden has chosen Cabinet nominees who are career officials and recognized experts in their fields, but they still face a confirmation process that has grown bitterly polarized. And the party that will hold the Senate during that process is not clear: Two runoffs in Georgia could tip the scales to Democrats. If Republicans retain control of the chamber, Biden’s may face a tougher path to confirmation.
Yet with a cast of well-known nominees and a newly created position focused on climate change, Biden has already begun to telegraph some of the issues he intends to prioritize. Here are the advisers he has picked, and some contenders he may announce later on:
SECRETARY OF STATE
Antony J. Blinken
In tapping Tony Blinken to serve as secretary of state, Biden appears determined to rebuild relationships with foreign leaders and international organizations that have atrophied under the isolationist policies that defined President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda.
If confirmed, Blinken will take charge of a State Department that has shrunk in size and stature under Trump, as staff reductions and resignations have thinned its ranks.
With his years of experience within the department, Blinken, 58, is well-versed in the mechanisms of diplomacy. He previously worked for the department under two previous administrations, including as deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama.
In Blinken, Biden hopes to install a measured and well-credentialed negotiator who can both represent the United States internationally as well as restore a sense of purpose within the State Department.
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s pick to advise him on matters of national security, has been hailed in Washington as a gifted legal mind, one who has a long history of working with the president-elect.
Sullivan has built a lengthy résumé including a clerkship for Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and work as chief counsel to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he worked for as the department’s head of policy planning, has described him as a “once-in-a-generation talent.”
Sullivan has also worked closely with other members of Biden’s planned Cabinet, succeeding Blinken as then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser in 2013. Sullivan and Blinken maintain a close friendship and a shared philosophy about the United States’ role in the world that is expected to shape Biden’s approach in international affairs.
UNITED NATIONS AMBASSADOR
When Biden introduced some of his nominees Tuesday, they seemed intent on fully repudiating the current administration’s “America First” isolationism.
“Diplomacy is back,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s choice to represent the United States as ambassador to the United Nations. Biden plans to restore the post to Cabinet-level status after Trump downgraded it, giving Thomas-Greenfield a seat on his National Security Council.
Thomas-Greenfield brings more than 35 years of experience in the foreign service, having worked as the U.S. ambassador to Liberia and served in posts in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica.
Thomas-Greenfield has worked in the private sector as well. She was previously a senior vice president at the Albright Stonebridge Group, the consulting firm founded by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, overseeing the firm’s Africa practice.
SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR CLIMATE
John F. Kerry
Emphasizing his intent to address the global threat posed by climate change as a pillar of his policy agenda, Biden selected John Kerry, the former secretary of state, to take up a newly created Cabinet-level position as his “climate czar.”
Kerry’s job will also carry with it a seat on the National Security Council, marking the first time that an adviser wholly dedicated to the issue of climate change will join the forum and placing him among other top advisers in the national security and foreign policy arena.
Kerry’s approach to the role is likely to be heavily informed by his experience working with other countries on agreements to set meaningful bench marks on carbon emissions and encourage sustainable growth. While secretary of state under Obama, Kerry was a chief negotiator for the United States on the Paris Agreement on climate change, which Biden has said he would recommit to on Day 1 of his administration.
Kerry will not have to face Senate confirmation, according to Biden’s transition team.
Janet L. Yellen
Looking for a trusted economist to lead the country’s economy out of a pandemic-driven downturn, Biden has settled on Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve.
If confirmed, Yellen would be the first woman to lead the Treasury in its 231-year history.
During her stint as Fed chair from 2014 to 2018, Yellen oversaw a record economic expansion that would go on to drive unemployment down to its lowest rate in 50 years and which helped produce a thriving economy that was upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
In selecting Yellen, Biden appeared to have opted for a safe and proven name, and a candidate who is expected to survive the confirmation process with some ease, unlike other economists proposed by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing who may have been less acceptable to Republicans in the Senate.
DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Avril D. Haines
Potentially the first woman to serve as the nation’s top intelligence official, Avril Haines comes with strong ties to the intelligence community, having served in both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
A trained physicist, Haines also helped oversee a number of covert programs at the National Security Council beginning in 2010 and then as deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2013-15, including the controversial targeted killing program involving precision drone strikes, some of which killed civilians.
While Haines has received criticism from some progressives over her involvement in the drone program, her work to increase oversight of those operations, as well as her strong credentials in intelligence work, are expected to satisfy enough senators to pave the way for her to be confirmed in what has traditionally been a nonpartisan role.
SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
Alejandro N. Mayorkas
Following four years of immigration policy narrowly tailored to Trump’s personal whims, Biden tapped Alejandro Mayorkas, a lawyer and former deputy homeland security secretary, to reorient the Department of Homeland Security.
A former director of the department’s legal immigration agency, Mayorkas will most likely be expected to roll back the Trump administration’s more punitive immigration policies in his new role. If confirmed, he would approach that task as the first immigrant to hold the position, as well as the first Latino.
Mayorkas faces the challenge of rebuilding an agency that suffered from unfilled vacancies and a chain of interim leaders in recent years, as well as one that has been embroiled in scandal over, among other issues, the Trump administration’s child separation policy.
Though several of the key positions covering foreign policy and national security now have nominees, other consequential picks have yet to be announced, with pressure building on Biden from activists and interest groups in support of their preferred candidates.
A number of Democrats and liberal groups have spoken up in recent days in support of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to lead the Interior Department. If selected and confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American women to do so.
Biden’s team is said to have considered nominating Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive independent from Vermont, to lead the Labor Department, a move that would please progressives but likely draw strong opposition from many Senate Republicans.
More than a dozen other positions are yet to be announced.
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