President-elect Joe Biden revealed his first major cabinet choices on Monday, naming his top national security and foreign policy officials along with a key diplomat and a cabinet-level official focused on climate change.
In the first of what are expected to be his full cabinet announcements in the coming days and weeks, Biden named veteran security and foreign policy aide Antony Blinken as his nominee for secretary of state; Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security; and Avril Haines to be the director of national intelligence. He also chose Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield is Biden's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations and John Kerry — a former senator, secretary of state and Democratic candidate for president — was named as the special presidential envoy for climate.
Blinken, 58, was the first pick to be widely reported over the weekend. He was Biden’s national security adviser from 2013 to 2015, when Biden was vice president. He has also served as a deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama.
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Two of Biden’s other nominations made history Monday: Mayorkas would become the first Latino to head the DHS, while Haines would be the first woman to lead national intelligence.
Biden's picks are pending Senate confirmation — except for Kerry and Sullivan — after he is sworn in on Jan. 20, though none of his nominees so far are seen as likely to inspire significant backlash.
Biden has pledged to staff an administration reflecting the country's diversity, while many observers expected he would draw from the same bench of aides and advisers from his decades in Washington, D.C., including during Obama's administration.
“We have no time to lose when it comes to our national security and foreign policy,” Biden, 78, said in a statement on Monday. “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.”
Today, I’m announcing the first members of my national security and foreign policy team. They will rally the world to take on our challenges like no other—challenges that no one nation can face alone.
It’s time to restore American leadership. I trust this group to do just that. pic.twitter.com/uKE5JG45Ts
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 23, 2020
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State
Described by some as a "centrist," Blinken was greeted as a "solid choice" by Sen. Bernie Sanders' former campaign manager Faiz Shakir, signaling approval from progressives: “Leaders around the world will assume that when Blinken speaks, he speaks for Biden.”
"He's extraordinary – a person of tremendous integrity, tremendous competence," one former White House colleague told USA Today. "He's a strategist, but he is so decent. He's such a nice guy."
Blinken's foreign policy record (and Biden’s pattern of choices) drew the usual scrutiny as well, given how America has grappled through the years with its military interventions in Iraq and Syria.
Blinken said he will work toward repairing the country’s relationships with foreign allies, an effort that follows President Donald Trump’s policy to put “America first” during his time in office, often breaking ranks with longtime friends whom Trump viewed as taking advantage of the U.S.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told the Associated Press earlier this year. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security
Biden hopes another difference is felt at home, where Mayorkas’ nomination would make him the first Latino and first immigrant to head the Department of Homeland Security, which has become more of a lightning rod as it was tasked with implementing President Trump's immigration crackdown.
Mayorkas was born in Cuba and previously served as the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under Obama.
Julián Castro, a former secretary of housing in the Obama administration, tweeted that Mayorkas is “a historic and experienced choice to lead an agency in desperate need of reform.”
Castro added: “As an immigrant and a creator of the DACA program, he’s well suited to undo Trump’s damage and build a more compassionate and common sense immigration agenda."
Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence
Haines’ nomination sets her up to be the first woman to ever oversee U.S. intelligence.
The 51-year-old attorney has worked with Biden for more than a decade, his transition team said. She is a former deputy director of the CIA and had been a deputy national security adviser under Obama — the first woman to ever hold those roles.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said in a statement that the Biden team selected “crisis-tested national security and foreign policy leaders” who “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,” Harris, 56, said. “They come from different places and reflect different life experiences. But they all share an unwavering belief in America’s ideals and an unshakeable commitment to democracy and the rule of law.”
Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor
Sullivan will be one of the youngest people to ever serve as the White House's top national security official. The Times reports he’ll be 44 once in office.
Currently living in New Hampshire with wife Maggie Goodlander, Sullivan grew up in Minnesota, graduated from Yale University and previously served as Biden’s national security adviser while Biden was vice president. Sullivan later became a senior policy adviser with Biden's 2020 campaign.
“During his time in government, Sullivan was a lead negotiator in the initial talks that paved the way for the Iran nuclear deal and played a key role in the U.S.-brokered negotiations that led to a ceasefire in Gaza in 2012,” the Biden team said in a statement Monday, noting Sullivan also worked as a deputy chief of staff under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “He also played a key role in shaping the Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy at both the State Department and the White House."
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Highlighting Biden’s goal to immediately install experienced officials to key positions, the president-elect’s team announced Thomas-Greenfield would be its pick to be the country’s U.N. ambassador.
“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,” Thomas-Greenfield tweeted afterward, adding she hopes to continue doing so, if her appointment is approved by the Senate.
Thomas-Greenfield is a 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service and has held positions around the globe, including a tenure as the U.S. ambassador to Liberia as well as foreign policy positions in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica.
John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
The Biden team says Kerry’s selection marks the first time a specialized role addressing climate change has been created for the National Security Council, where Kerry will sit.
His role will reflect “the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the transition team said.
The 76-year-old Kerry — whom Biden’s team described as “a key architect of the Paris Climate Accord,” the global agreement Trump disliked but which Biden supports — tweeted Monday that the work started by that agreement is “far from done.”
“I'm returning to government to get America back on track to address the biggest challenge of this generation and those that will follow,” Kerry wrote. “The climate crisis demands nothing less than all hands on deck.”