Senate confirms Biden’s intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official
Senators confirmed Avril Haines to be President Biden’s director of national intelligence (DNI) on Wednesday, giving him his first Senate-confirmed Cabinet pick.
Senators voted 84-10 to confirm Haines, who appears to be the only Cabinet official Biden will get confirmed on the first day of his administration.
It’s a historically small number of Cabinet picks to get through the Senate on the first day of a new administration and comes after Republicans were furious in 2017 when Democrats allowed only two Cabinet picks to be confirmed on former President Trump’s first day.
By comparison, former President Obama got six Cabinet picks confirmed on his first day, former President George W. Bush got seven on his first day and former President Clinton got three. Former President Carter got eight, while former President Nixon got 11.
Democrats had been hopeful that they would be able to get some of Biden’s Cabinet picks confirmed on Wednesday.
“I’m really hopeful. I know that things will happen as quickly as possible. So there’s a lot of promise in these in these coming days. We will get it done,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, said the five nominees who had their confirmation hearings on Tuesday were “really capable folks” and that “we should be confirming them today.”
Democrats also warned against reading too much into the slow pace of day one confirmations, noting that the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its subsequent fallout had been historically singular.
“I think there were a lot of things going on up here,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Whether Biden would get any Cabinet picks confirmed on day one of his administration has been in limbo for weeks and was unclear until hours before the Senate ultimately voted to confirm Haines.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disclosed on Wednesday morning that he was skipping Biden’s inauguration ceremony because he was trying to resolve roadblocks to getting Haines quickly confirmed.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, then said late Wednesday afternoon that he had dropped his hold on Haines’s nomination, allowing her to move quickly.
“I was the last person to object to holding that vote. I no longer object,” Cotton said from the Senate floor, noting that an unresolved question he had had been resolved.
Each of the “no” votes on Haines’s nomination came from Republicans: Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Bill Hagerty (Tenn.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Mike Lee (Utah), Roger Marshall (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Jim Risch (Idaho).
Haines, who has earned bipartisan praise, served in several national security positions under the Obama administration, including deputy CIA director and White House deputy national security adviser.
She is replacing former Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) who was a political ally of Trump and drew backlash over some of his decisions to declassify intelligence that were viewed as attempts to spread at times unverified information that could hurt the president’s political enemies.
Haines pledged during her confirmation hearing to keep the intelligence community out of politics.
“To be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power, even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult,” Haines said in her opening statement.
She was one of five Cabinet picks who had their confirmation hearings on Tuesday.
But so far the other four — Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen, secretary of State pick Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin to be Defense secretary and Alejandro Mayorkas to be Homeland Security secretary — have not yet been scheduled for a floor vote.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said he has placed a hold on Mayorkas’s nomination, which will require Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to eat up days of floor time to get him confirmed.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on Blinken’s nomination on Monday, absent a deal to confirm him faster. The House will vote on Thursday on a waiver to allow Austin to serve as the Pentagon chief despite not meeting the requirement of a seven-year cooling-off period for former military officials.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) pointed to Yellen and Blinken as two other Cabinet picks who could get confirmed by the end of the week.
But Democrats had publicly pushed for Biden to get at least two Cabinet picks confirmed on his first day, the same number as Trump.
“In 2017, the Senate confirmed President Trump’s Secretary of the Defense and his Secretary of Homeland Security on Inauguration Day. President Biden should have the same officials in place on his inauguration day, at the very least. That is the expectation and tradition for any administration—but especially now, in the midst of a homeland security crisis,” Schumer said earlier this week.
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