Biden signals shift from Trump era with raft of national security picks

23 November 2020, 21:04

Joe Biden
Biden. Picture: PA

Former secretary of state John Kerry is to be his climate change envoy.

President-elect Joe Biden is moving to fill his national security team with a raft of appointments to senior positions that signal his intent to repudiate the Trump administration’s America First doctrine.

The six picks announced on Monday, almost all of them alumni of the Obama administration, represent a fundamental shift away from Donald Trump’s policies and personnel selections.

They also mark a return to a more traditional approach to America’s relations with the rest of the world and reflect Mr Biden’s campaign promises to have his cabinet reflect the diversity of the American population.

In choosing foreign policy veterans, Mr Biden is seeking to upend Mr Trump’s war on the so-called “deep state” that saw an exodus of career officials from government.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump is hindering transition efforts (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

He will nominate his long-time adviser Antony Blinken to be secretary of state, lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas to be homeland security secretary, Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be ambassador to the United Nations, Jake Sullivan to be his national security adviser, Avril Haines to be director of national intelligence, and former secretary of state John Kerry to be his climate change envoy.

The choices also suggest Mr Biden intends to make good on campaign promises to have his cabinet reflect the diversity of the American population with Ms Thomas-Greenfield, a black woman, at the helm of the US mission to the United Nations, and Mr Mayorkas, a Cuban-American lawyer, as the first Latino to lead Homeland Security.

They “are experienced, crisis-tested leaders who are ready to hit the ground running on day one”, the transition team said in a statement.

“These officials will start working immediately to rebuild our institutions, renew and reimagine American leadership to keep Americans safe at home and abroad, and address the defining challenges of our time — from infectious disease, to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber threats and climate change.”

John Kerry
John Kerry (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Mr Biden has also chosen former Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen to serve as treasury secretary, a pivotal role in which she would help shape and direct his economic policies at a perilous time, according to a source.

Ms Yellen, 74, would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department in a line stretching back to Alexander Hamilton in 1789.

In making the announcements, Mr Biden moved forward with plans to fill out his government even as Mr Trump refuses to concede defeat in the November 3 election, as he pursues baseless legal challenges in several key states and works to stymie the transition.

The stakes of a smooth transition are especially high this year because Mr Biden will take office amid the worst pandemic in more than a century, which is likely to require a full government response to contain.

Perhaps the best known of the bunch is Mr Kerry, who made climate change one of his top priorities while serving as Barack Obama’s secretary of state.

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Mr Kerry said. “I’m proud to partner with the president-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the president’s climate envoy.”

Antony Blinken
Antony Blinken (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Mr Sullivan, who at 43 will be one of the youngest national security advisers in history, was a senior aide to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton before becoming then-vice president Mr Biden’s national security adviser. He said the president-elect had “taught me what it takes to safeguard our national security at the highest levels of our government”.

“Now, he has asked me to serve as his national security adviser,” Mr Sullivan said. “In service, I will do everything in my power to keep our country safe.”

The posts to be held by Mr Kerry, Mr Sullivan and Ms Haines do not require Senate confirmation.

Mr Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Mr Biden.

If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which Donald Trump questioned long-time alliances.

Mr Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Mr Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.

He would inherit a deeply demoralised and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Mr Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.

By Press Association