Biden rolls out national security team
President-elect Joe Biden on Monday formally announced who he intends to nominate for his national security team as he moves forward with the transition process amid continued efforts by President Trump to deny the results of the election.
The rollout of names included Antony Blinken, a longtime foreign policy adviser, to serve as secretary of State; Alejandro Mayorkas to serve as Homeland Security secretary; Avril Haines to be director of national intelligence; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Jake Sullivan to be national security advisor.
“We have no time to lose when it comes to our national security and foreign policy,” Biden said in a statement announcing his nominations.
“This is the crux of that team. 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.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris praised the individuals nominated as “crisis-tested national security and foreign policy leaders” who are set to face the challenges the administration will take on in the first day in office.
“President-elect Biden and I know that the moment we walk into the White House, we will inherit a series of unprecedented challenges,” Harris said in a statement. “These crisis-tested national security and foreign policy leaders have the knowledge and expertise to keep our country safe and restore and advance America’s leadership around the world. They represent the best of America.”
Biden’s nominations elevate close and trusted advisors respected as professionals in their fields while fulfilling his promises to create teams with diversity in gender and ethnicity. The list includes officials with deep government experience who served with him during the Obama administration.
Haines, who served as deputy director of the CIA and principal deputy national security adviser under former President Obama, had been viewed as a leading choice for a top intelligence post in Biden’s cabinet. If she is confirmed, she will become the first woman ever to serve as Director of National Intelligence.
Those who have worked with her describe Haines as deeply gifted and someone who is committed to serving her country and understands the inner workings of government.
Mayorkas, known as “Ali,” was a top choice to lead Department of Homeland Security (DHS) among Latino advocacy groups. He will become the first Latino to helm DHS if confirmed.
“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. 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,” Mayorkas wrote on Twitter shortly after his nomination was announced.
When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. 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.
— Alejandro Mayorkas (@AliMayorkas) November 23, 2020
As director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and later as DHS deputy secretary, Mayorkas oversaw the design and implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, by far the Obama administration’s most popular immigration initiative.
While the Biden administration will calm some fears among Hispanic Democrats with a Mayorkas appointment, it will also appoint a DHS veteran who’ll be in a position to address the department’s chronic morale problem.
Greenfield, a Black woman, has decades of experience as a member of the career foreign service. She spent over 30 years as foreign service officer before retiring from her position at the State Department shortly after Trump took office.
“My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place,” Greenfield wrote on Twitter following her nomination. “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.”
My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place. 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.
— Linda Thomas-Greenfield (@LindaT_G) November 23, 2020
Sullivan, as national security advisor, will be one of the youngest people to serve in the role in recent history and served as Deputy Assistant to President Obama and national security adviser to Biden when he was vice president.
Sullivan was a lead negotiator on the nuclear talks with Iran during the Obama administration and played a key role in that administration’s pivot to Asia.
“President-elect Biden taught me what it takes to safeguard our national security at the highest levels of our government,” Sullivan wrote on Twitter in reaction to his appointment. “Now, he has asked me to serve as his National Security Advisor. In service, I will do everything in my power to keep our country safe.”
President-elect Biden taught me what it takes to safeguard our national security at the highest levels of our government. Now, he has asked me to serve as his National Security Advisor. In service, I will do everything in my power to keep our country safe.
— Jake Sullivan (@jakejsullivan) November 23, 2020
Blinken’s nomination to lead the State Department drew praise from foreign policy and national security experts who reacted to earlier reports that Blinken was expected to be nominated for the key Cabinet position charged with reasserting the U.S. position on the world stage.
Blinken served as Biden’s senior foreign policy adviser throughout the campaign, leading a team that drew hundreds of global experts volunteering their time as informal advisers.
Their history together stretches back to Biden’s time as chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Blinken served six years as Democratic staff director.
Blinken followed Biden to the White House as the vice president’s national security adviser before taking on more senior roles in national security, advising then-President Obama before being promoted to senior positions at the State Department.
His reported nomination was welcomed by national security professionals like Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who wrote on Twitter that Blinken will be a strong secretary of State that will be able to speak with authority on behalf of Biden and with knowledge of the issues and the State Department.
“Good man, good choice,” Haass wrote on Twitter.
David Axelrod, who served as senior adviser to Obama, described Blinken on Twitter as “one of the finest public servants I’ve ever known. Brilliant, thoughtful, honest and experienced-really a splendid choice.”
Blinken also received congratulations from Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware), who was reported to also be in consideration for the top diplomatic post. Coons said in a statement that “Tony Blinken will be an outstanding Secretary of State.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Blinken will be faced with the task of repairing relationships with close allies that chafed under the Trump administration, as well as joining in global cooperation to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
Blinken will also be charged with taking a more confrontational approach to authoritarian rulers routinely embraced by the incumbent president, including Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin, to name a few.
China and Iran will likely be the biggest foreign policy challenges confronting the incoming Biden administration.
With China, the president-elect is set to take a stronger stance against Beijing’s assault on human rights, democratic freedoms and military posturing, safeguarding the U.S. from cyberattacks and intellectual property theft — but will need to engage over trade, responding to the pandemic and cooperation on the environment.
On Iran, Blinken will be the face of Biden’s promise to re-engage with Iran over its nuclear program and is likely to come up against strong pushback from Israel and Gulf countries who are speaking out against the president-elect’s intent to negotiate with Tehran and calling to be consulted over any deal likely to take place.
The announcement of Biden’s nominations for key cabinet postings come as President Trump refuses to concede the election.
The president and his allies have leveled unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud in an effort to challenge the results. The campaign has filed a number of lawsuits but failed to produce evidence to back up their claims. Over the weekend, a federal judge issued a sharply-worded opinion dismissing the campaign’s lawsuit seeking to stop the certification of results in Pennsylvania.
On the world stage, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also failed to recognize Biden as president-elect and continued to insist while on a 10-day trip to Europe and the Middle East that the U.S. election process is inconclusive with votes still being counted.
Rafael Bernal contributed reporting. Updated at 1:40 p.m.