Biden Makes Secretary of State, National Security Picks

President-elect Joe Biden participates in a meeting with the National Governors Association’s executive committee at The Queen theater, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(CN) — President-elect Joe Biden announced key members of his national security team Monday morning, after news broke over the weekend he planned to pick Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of state. 

Alejandro Mayorkas will head the Department of Homeland Security, Linda Thomas-Greenfield will serve as ambassador to the United Nations, Avril Haines will become the first woman to head the nation’s intelligence community as she will be named as director of National Intelligence and Jake Sullivan was tapped as national security adviser. 

“We have no time to lose when it comes to our national security and foreign policy,” Biden said in a prepared statement. “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.”

Avril, a former deputy CIA director and deputy national security adviser is not the only groundbreaking diversity hire, as Mayorkas will be the first Latino to head the Department of Homeland Security. 

“Their accomplishments in diplomacy are unmatched, but they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet the profound challenges of this new moment with old thinking and unchanged habits — or without diversity of background and perspective,” Biden said. 

Biden also hired John Kerry, former U.S. senator and secretary of state under Barack Obama, to become the climate czar, a special envoy on climate change who will sit on the National Security Council. The high-profile hire is yet another signal that the Biden administration will center the issue of climate change in its foreign policy. 

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry tweeted Monday. “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.”

Many of the individuals named Monday morning are holdovers from the Obama administration and have ties to Biden that date back decades. Blinken and others have repeatedly expressed a foreign policy reliant on international cooperation, a sharp departure from the America First foreign policy platform advocated by President Donald Trump. 

Blinken has acknowledged the difficulties of American global leadership but maintains they are an indispensable aspect of the international order. 

“As much of a burden as it sometimes seems to play this leadership role, the alternatives in terms of our interests and the lives of Americans are much worse,” Blinken said in an interview with Reuters in October. 

But like Trump, many of the new hires are wary of foreign intervention and nation building after the debacle of the war in Iraq and the difficulty in extracting American troops from places like Afghanistan. 

Yet Blinken, at least, has signaled he will not be easy on China, as a bipartisan consensus about the need to check China’s growth as an economic and military power appears to have become further entrenched in the Beltway. 

“China shouldn’t get the economic benefit of Hong Kong’s free economy without the rule of law that underpins it,” Blinken said in the Reuters interview.

While some continuity with the Trump administration’s foreign policy may persist, Biden has also signaled he would reverse many of Trump’s foreign policy actions. 

He is virtually certain to rejoin the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization, although Biden has said he recognizes the international health organization’s record as it applies to the coronavirus has been mixed at best. The Biden national security team will likely explore re-engaging Iran, potentially allowing them to rejoin a multilateral nuclear deal should the regime commit to curtailing its nuclear power ambitions. 

Mayorkas is a Cuban-American whose family fled the Castro regime. He served as the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during Obama’s first term. It will be a heavy lift to lead a department that has received intense scrutiny under the Trump administration’s guidance, where child separation policies and a more aggressive approach to deportation proved divisive. 

“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge,” Mayorkas tweeted Monday. “Now, I have been nominated to be the DHS secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones.”

Thomas-Greenfield is a 35-year veteran of the State Department, having served as a high-ranking Foreign Service officer in diplomatic posts around the world. Thomas-Greenfield will inherit a State Department low on morale as many senior diplomats felt sidelined by an administration that was often hostile to their input. 

“My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place,” Thomas-Greenfield said Monday on Twitter. “I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service — and, if confirmed, will do the same as ambassador to the United Nations.”

Haines served as the deputy director of the CIA under Obama. She is a former aide to Biden, serving as a deputy chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2007 to 2008 when Biden was chair. Haines was a lawyer for Obama’s National Security Council as well. 

Sullivan has long been cast a rising star in the Democratic Party foreign policy apparatus and will be one of the youngest people to hold the top national security job at age 44. He was a crucial part of negotiations for the Iran Nuclear Deal and was a senior aide to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. 

“President-elect Biden taught me what it takes to safeguard our national security at the highest levels of our government,” Sullivan wrote on Twitter on Monday. “Now, he has asked me to serve as his National Security adviser. In service, I will do everything in my power to keep our country safe.”

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