By Ken Bredemeier
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden signaled his intention to nominate his top diplomatic and national security team for his incoming administration on Monday, including one of his closest foreign affairs advisers, Antony Blinken, as secretary of state.
Biden also said he intends to nominate former Secretary of State John Kerry to a new position as special presidential envoy for climate while holding a seat on the National Security Council. It was a reflection, the Biden transition team said, of the incoming president’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue.
According to news reports, Janet Yellen, the 74-year-old former chair of the Federal Reserve, would be nominated as Biden’s Treasury secretary. As first reported in The New York Times, Yellen would be the first woman to lead the U.S. Treasury.
Biden, 78, is set to become the 46th U.S. president at his inauguration on January 20, even as President Donald Trump continues his long-shot legal attempt to upend the Democrat’s November 3 election victory.
Biden, overseeing his transition to power in Washington from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, selected Alejandro Mayorkas as head of the Department of Homeland Security. A Cuban American lawyer, he is a former deputy secretary at the agency, and if confirmed by the Senate, would be its first Latino and immigrant leader.
The incoming U.S. president picked an African American, former Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service who has served on four continents, to serve as the U.S. envoy to the United Nations. Biden elevated her role to a seat in his Cabinet, a rank past presidents have also occasionally given the high-profile position.
Biden picked another woman, Avril Haines, as director of national intelligence. She is a former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a deputy national security adviser, She will be the first woman to lead the U.S. intelligence community.
Jake Sullivan, a Biden foreign affairs adviser, was named as his national security adviser.
In announcing the appointments, Biden said, “We have 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.”
“This is the crux of that team,” Biden said. “These individuals are equally as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative. 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. It’s why I’ve selected them.”
Biden appears set to re-engage the United States in an array of global alliances that Trump abandoned over the last four years.
The 58-year-old Blinken is a veteran of U.S. foreign affairs decision-making for two decades, and according to multiple news accounts, agrees with Biden on the need for the U.S. to play a leading role again in world affairs, a change from Trump’s “America First” credo that at times left the United States at odds with other long-time Western allies.
In his first days in office, Biden has said he plans to overturn Trump policies and rejoin the Paris climate agreement, stop the U.S. exit from the World Health Organization and attempt to again join other nations in the international pact to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons development.
Blinken, if confirmed by the Senate, would become the face of U.S. diplomacy. He served first under former President Bill Clinton, then later as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under former Democratic President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. And while Republican former President George W. Bush was in power, Blinken was the Democratic staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Biden could announce other Cabinet-level nominations on Tuesday even as Trump continues to contest Biden’s election and tries to avoid becoming the third U.S. leader in the last four decades to be ousted after a single term in the White House.
Virtual meeting with mayors
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Monday are meeting virtually with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The non-partisan organization includes the mayors of more than 1,400 cities, each with a population of 30,000 or more.
The conference has pushed for more federal aid to state and local governments as the number of coronavirus cases surges in the U.S. But negotiations for more relief have stalled between Congress and the White House. Biden has called for a new aid deal before he takes office but prospects for its passage by the end of December are uncertain.
Trump is continuing to claim he won the election despite Biden’s unofficial 306-232 majority vote in the Electoral College. The electoral vote determines U.S. presidential elections, not the national popular vote, although Biden leads there, too, by more than 6 million votes.
Trump’s legal fight against the election results has been fruitless so far, with his campaign losing or withdrawing 34 lawsuits claiming vote and vote-counting fraud in key battleground states Biden was projected to win to claim a four-year term in the White House.
Trump is pursuing other lawsuits and appeals of decisions he has lost, attempting to upend Biden’s win.