New Secretary of State Has Been Here Before

Antony Blinken will enter his fourth White House administration under President Joe Biden, having previously served every previous commander in chief but Trump in some capacity since 1994.

Tony Blinken speaks at the Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed yet another one of President Joe Biden’s cabinet members, shoring up the leadership of three major departments with oversight in national defense and international diplomacy. 

By a 78-22 vote, lawmakers stamped approval for Antony Blinken to become secretary of Biden’s State Department. His approval comes a week after senators confirmed Avril Haines as director of national intelligence and General Lloyd Austin to head the Defense Department. They are the first woman and first African American, respectively, in such positions.

Not himself a newcomer to the White House, Blinken was deputy state secretary under former President Barack Obama after stints advising both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Blinken is also co-founder of WestExec, a consulting firm that promises to bring clients from “the situation room to the board room.”

Appearing to take up Biden’s Inauguration Day call for national unity during his confirmation hearing last week, Blinken touched on things he would change about the Obama administration’s handling of the Libyan conflict.

The admission came after Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson tied the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi to Obama’s policy of trying to “lead from behind” when mitigating civil conflict in the country.

“The world community kind of blew up Libya. That didn’t turn out so well; we had Benghazi,” Johnson said during that hearing. “Do you have any second thoughts in terms of what happened with Libya?”

“I do,” Blinken replied. “Before I address that, senator, I would like to say that I believe that no one, no party, has a monopoly on good ideas, and I hope that working together we can pool all the good ideas from both sides of the aisle to try to advance the security and wellbeing of the American people abroad.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Blinken would help “rebuild and reassert America’s national security prerogatives on the global stage,” reestablishing the first instrument of American power: diplomacy.

“For four years, the failed diplomacy of the Trump administration weakened our alliances, strengthened and emboldened our advisories and tarnished America’s reputation abroad,” he said. “We must reaffirm our commitment to NATO and other critical alliances around the world, we must hold Russia accountable for its malicious interference in democracies, we must confront China’s economic, political and human rights abuses and we must work with the family of nations to combat the existential threat of climate change.”

Schumer added that the agency workforce Blinken would inherit is one desperately in need of leadership. Under Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, diplomats and State Department civilians were relegated to the sidelines with a myriad of essential positions left vacant.

“So, none of this will be easy, but I’m confident Mr. Blinken is exactly the right person for the job,” Schumer said.

Senator Jim Risch, who chaired the Committee on Foreign Relations in the last Congress, spoke briefly in support of Blinken’s nomination, saying in his judgment it was one of “the most important nominee to the president’s Cabinet,” especially considering the line of succession to the presidency. Secretaries of state are the fourth in the line of succession behind the president pro tempore of the Senate, a position now held by Patrick Leahy.

Risch enumerate some of viewpoints where he and Blinken are aligned, saying both had reservations about Turkey’s international direction. 

“In any event, we need a secretary of state,” Risch said. “This is the person for the job.”

On the other side of the Republican spectrum, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said he opposed confirmation because of Blinken’s encouragement of American intervention in the Iraq conflict. 

“Mr. Blinken has been a full-throated advocate of military intervention in the Middle East for 20 years,” Paul said. “We’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re going to get a new policy, we’re going to get more of the same.” 

Expected in the coming weeks is a confirmation vote on Biden’s nominee for commerce secretary, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. The erstwhile venture capitalist testified remotely as the Senate’s Commerce Committee held her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

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