Biden announces first cabinet posts of administration

The president-elect named nominees for secretary of state, homeland security, national security adviser, among others.

President-elect Joe Biden has named nominees for national security and foreign policy cabinet positions [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

President-elect Joe Biden has released an array of nominees to head foreign policy and national security agencies under his incoming administration. In addition, Biden is reportedly set to announce his choice as Treasury Secretary.

The nominees on Monday included Antony Blinken for secretary of state, Alejandro Mayorkas to be secretary of homeland security, Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, Jake Sullivan for national security adviser, Linda Thomas-Greenfield for US ambassador to the United Nations and former Secretary of State John Kerry to be the special presidential envoy for climate.

For Treasury Secretary, Biden plans to nominate Janet Yellen, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, and the New York Times.

The proposed appointments come as President Donald Trump has continued to refuse to concede the election, despite a resounding projected victory for Biden. Trump has also refused to allow the about 40 agencies that make up his administration to cooperate with Biden’s team, which experts – including more than 100 Republican national security officials – warn could harm national security readiness when Biden takes office on January 20.

The nominees announced on Monday include an array of former officials in the administration of President Barack Obama, in which Biden served as vice president. Many have been longtime Biden advisers and confidants.

In a statement, Biden said there is “no time to lose when it comes to our national security and foreign policy”.

“I need a team ready on Day One to help me reclaim America’s seat at the head of the table, rally the world to meet the biggest challenges we face, and advance our security, prosperity, and values,” Biden said. “These individuals are equally as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative.”

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State

Former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been nominated to serve as secretary of state in the Biden administration [Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama-Biden administration. He has advised Biden on foreign policy since 2002.

The pick of Blinken, who has maintained close ties to Biden, is seen as a rebuke to Trump’s “America First” policy. He has stressed the significance of international organisations and alliances and is expected to lead the US’s rejoining of the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord, as well as reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

Before becoming the foreign policy adviser to the Biden campaign, Blinken served as the managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and was the Herter/Nitze Distinguished Scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Blinken has been criticised for his role in overseeing the US troops’ withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that observers say created a power vacuum that aided the rise of ISIL (ISIS). He has also faced blowback for his role in overseeing the policy towards Syria under Obama.

Still, in nominating Blinken, Biden appears to be largely sidestepping potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for other individuals on his shortlist. Susan Rice was expected to face Republican opposition stemming from statements she made following the 2012 Benghazi attacks in Libya. Senator Chris Coons was widely seen as lacking the granular experience to manage foreign policy issues.

With his nomination of Yellen, who, if confirmed, will be the first female Treasury secretary, Biden hinted last week as to the reason why he is choosing the former chair of the Federal Reserve.

“You’ll find it is someone who I think will be accepted by all elements of the Democratic Party, progressives through the moderate coalition,” Biden said.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security

Former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has been nominated by Biden to serve as secretary of homeland security in his incoming administration [Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

Mayorkas, a former federal prosecutor in California, served as deputy secretary at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under Obama. He was the Obama administration’s highest-ranking Cuban American official.

If confirmed, the Havana-born Mayorkas would become the first Latino and the first foreign-born leader of the sprawling department that was created in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. The department has about 240,000 employees and is responsible for border security, immigration enforcement, cybersecurity, disaster readiness and relief, among other portfolios.

Biden has pledged to undo many of Trump’s restrictive immigration policies. The hundreds of planned changes could take months or years to implement. They include rescinding a travel ban on 13 either Muslim majority or African countries, creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, and revitalising Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offers protections to the so-called Dreamers – hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the US illegally after entering as children.

Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence

Former Deputy NSA Avril Haines has been nominated by Biden for the role of director of national intelligence [File: Win McNamee/AFP]

Haines was the deputy national security adviser under Obama, and previously the first woman to serve as the CIA deputy director.

If confirmed, she will be the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence, who oversees a constellation of 17 agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).

She held several posts at Columbia University after leaving the Obama administration in 2017.

Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor

Former NSA to then-Vice President Jake Sullivan has been tapped by Biden to serve as the NSA in the incoming administration [File: Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

Sullivan served as Biden’s national security adviser during the Obama administration and also as deputy chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A 43-year-old graduate of Yale, who was also a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, Sullivan has a reputation as a behind-the-scenes operator. He took part in secret backchannel talks with Iran that led to a 2015 international nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that Trump withdrew from in 2018.

As part of the Biden-Harris campaign, Sullivan had taken on a broad portfolio advising on foreign and domestic policy, including public health and economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat, has been nominated to serve as the US ambassador to the United Nations in Biden’s administration [Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo]

Thomas-Greenfield is a career diplomat who served as Obama’s top diplomat on Africa from 2013 to 2017. She led US policy in sub-Saharan Africa during the West African Ebola outbreak.

She had previously served as ambassador to Liberia and had postings in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica.

Since 2017, she has been the head of the Africa Practice at the Albright Stoneridge Group, a private commercial diplomacy firm chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Thomas-Greenfield will be tasked with restoring US stature at the UN, towards which the Trump administration has been adversarial. Trump downgraded the role of US ambassador from a cabinet position in 2018.

Thomas-Greenfield, who is Black, has stressed the need for diversity within the US foreign policy apparatus.

Janet Yellen, Secretary of Treasury

Janet Yellen is set to be nominated as the next Treasury secretary [File: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

Yellen is a career economist who spent years working in the US Federal Reserve system, including serving as chair from 2014-2018.

Democrats were upset when Trump declined to reappoint Yellen as chair in 2018, breaking from recent tradition when the two previous chairs appointed by Democratic presidents, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, were reappointed by subsequent Republican presidents.

Yellen, who was the first female chair of the Federal Reserve, would also be the first female Treasury Secretary, if confirmed. She also served as the chair of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1997-1999.

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

Former Secretary of State John Kerry has been nominated to serve as the special presidential envoy for climate on Biden’s National Security Council [Gerald Herbert/AP Photo]

The former secretary of state under Obama, Kerry, will act as “climate czar” on Biden’s National Security Council. The new position is the first time a member of the council will be dedicated solely to climate change.

Kerry, 76, helped negotiate the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which aims to mitigate emissions across the world.

A former Massachusetts senator, Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, losing to Republican incumbent George W Bush.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies