Biden pivots from ‘America First’ with national security team

With his highly experienced and diverse team, President-elect Joe Biden is emphasising cooperation with US allies.

US President-elect Joe Biden announces his national security nominees and appointees at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, November 24, 2020 [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

US President-elect Joe Biden introduced several of his national security nominees Tuesday, marking a reversal of President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy by saying his picks “embody my core beliefs that America is strongest when it works with its allies.”

Biden officially unveiled his national security team Tuesday, including his nominees for secretary of state and secretary of homeland security, touting not only their experience, but also their diversity. His roster includes multiple women and people of colour — some of whom are breaking historical barriers in their posts.

“[W]hile this team has unmatched experience and accomplishments, they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits,” Biden said. “For example, we’re going to have the first woman lead the intelligence community, the first Latino and immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security and a groundbreaking diplomat at the United Nations.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris added, “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America that reflects the best of our nation, and that’s what we have done.”

President-elect Joe Biden stands with his nominees for his national security team, a diverse and experienced roster of picks [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Biden’s emerging Cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington, DC and global capitals.

“It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it,” Biden said.

He nominated longtime adviser Antony Blinken to be secretary of state; lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas, who is Latino, to be homeland security secretary; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Black woman, to be US ambassador to the United Nations; and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser. Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, has been tapped as director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold that post. And former Secretary of State John Kerry is being named to a new cabinet-level post as Biden’s climate change envoy.

The most well-known is Kerry, who made climate change one of his priorities while serving as Barack Obama’s secretary of state, during which he also negotiated the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. Trump withdrew from both agreements, which he said represented a failure of American diplomacy in a direct critique of Kerry, whom he called the worst secretary of state in US history.

Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration.

He served on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chairman of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the council and was Biden’s national security adviser when Biden was vice president, then moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Kerry.

“America, at its best, still has a greater ability than any other country on Earth to bring others together to meet the challenges of our time,” Blinken said Tuesday. “And that’s where the men and women of the State Department, Foreign Service officers, civil service, that’s where they come in. I witnessed their passion, their energy, their courage up close. I see what they do to keep us safe, to make us more prosperous.”

Blinken’s remarks come after a tumultuous stretch for the State Department and career diplomats under Trump. The department has seen a significant number of departures from its ranks during the past few years as many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service, given limited prospects for advancements under an administration they believed did not value their expertise.

In announcing his choices, Biden moved forward with plans to fill out his administration even as Trump refuses to concede defeat in the November 3 election, has pursued baseless legal challenges in several key states and worked to stymie the transition.

Nevertheless, Trump said Monday he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition while pledging to keep up the fight. His comment came after the General Services Administration ascertained that Biden was the apparent winner of the election, clearing the way for the start of the transition from Trump’s administration and allowing Biden to coordinate with federal agencies on plans for taking over on January 20.

More announcements to come

In the weeks ahead, Biden could also name Michele Flournoy as the first woman to lead the US Department of Defense. Pete Buttigieg, the former Indiana mayor and one-time presidential candidate, has also been mentioned as a contender for a Cabinet post.

Outside the realm of national security and foreign policy, Biden is expected to choose Janet Yellen as the first woman to become treasury secretary the Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press have reported. She was nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the Federal Reserve, the first woman in that position, and served from 2014 to 2018.

All of Biden’s cabinet choices must be confirmed by the US Senate, which could be under Republican control if that party’s candidates can win one out of two runoff elections in Georgia on January 5.

Of Tuesday’s crop of picks, Mayorkas might pose the most difficult confirmation challenge for Biden.

The Senate previously confirmed Mayorkas in December 2013 by a party-line vote to be the deputy secretary of homeland security. The Senate was then controlled by Democrats, and all Senate Republicans voted against Mayorkas’ confirmation, mainly because he was then under investigation by the Obama-appointed inspector general in that department. At the time, the Senate historian’s office said it was unprecedented for the Senate to vote on a nominee who was under investigation.

The inspector general, John Roth, found in March 2015 that Mayorkas, as director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, appeared to give special treatment to certain people as part of the visa programme that gives residency preference to immigrants who agree to invest in the US economy.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will consider Blinken’s nomination, broadly wrote off the early selections as uninspiring.

“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” Rubio tweeted.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies