Who’s who? A round-up of Joe Biden’s foreign policy and national security picks

By on 03/12/2020 | Updated on 04/12/2020
Joe Biden has named prominent figures from the Obama-era in his cabinet. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled key members of his foreign policy and national security team.

His picks include the first immigrant to serve as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary; the first woman to lead the intelligence community; and the first special presidential envoy for climate to sit on the National Security Council.

Biden said that the nominees would rebuild US institutions, renew American leadership, and address the defining challenges of the time. He listed these as infectious disease, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber threats and climate change.

Vice president-elect Kamala Harris said: “President-elect Biden and I know that the moment we walk into the White House, we will inherit a series of unprecedented challenges. 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.”

To the detail…

Antony Blinken has been nominated as secretary of state. Blinken was deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, and has previously held top foreign affairs posts on Capitol Hill, the White House, and in the State Department. He has advised president-elect Biden on foreign policy since 2002. He began his career as a foreign policy reporter for The New Republic magazine.

Alejandro Mayorkas is the incoming administration’s choice for secretary of the DHS. Originally from Cuba, Mayorkas has worked as a federal prosecutor, US attorney, and private sector lawyer for 30 years. He was deputy secretary at the DHS from 2013 to 2016, where he worked on cybersecurity and led the department’s response to Ebola and Zika.

A new face for US foreign policy

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who had a 35-year career in the US Foreign Service including postings to Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria, has been nominated to serve as United Nations ambassador. She is returning to service after retiring in 2017 from the post of assistant secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs. She previously worked as director general of the foreign service and director of human resources.

Former secretary of state John Kerry is to be special presidential envoy for climate and will sit on the National Security Council (NSC). It’s the first time the body will include an official dedicated to climate change – a topic named by Biden as an urgent national security issue. Kerry was a key architect of the Paris Agreement – from which Trump withdrew – and has also led work on nuclear non-proliferation and extremism.

Avril Haines has been nominated to serve as director of National Intelligence, the first woman to lead the intelligence community. During the Obama administration, she served as assistant to the president and principal deputy national security advisor from 2015-2017, during which time she led the NSC’s Deputies Committee. Prior to that, Haines was the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency. She entered public service in 2010 as the NSC legal advisor.

Serious CVs

Finally, Jake Sullivan has been appointed national security advisor. He is currently a senior policy advisor to the president-elect, and formerly served as deputy assistant to the president and national security advisor to Biden when he was vice president in the Obama administration. He has also served as director of policy planning staff at the Department of State, and as deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state.

Meanwhile, Janet Yellen has been widely tipped to be nominated as the next US Treasury secretary. She has previously held positions as chair of the Federal Reserve, president of the San Francisco Fed, and chair of the White House council of economic advisers under the Bill Clinton presidency. 

The General Services Administration began cooperating with Biden’s team to manage the transition, even while Donald Trump continued to claim that the election had been stolen. The outgoing president’s legal attempts to challenge the outcome have all been dismissed to date.

In a further acknowledgement of Biden’s win, Trump began issuing pardons – the first to Michael Flynn: his former national security adviser, who was convicted after lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian operatives at the time of the 2016 election.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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