WILMINGTON, DELAWARE (AP) – Declaring “America is back,” United States (US) President-elect Joe Biden introduced his national security team, his first substantive offering of how he’ll shift from Trump-era “America First” policies by relying on experts from the Democratic establishment to be some of his most important advisers.
“Together, these public servants will restore America globally, its global leadership and its moral leadership,” Biden said on Tuesday from a theatre in his longtime home of Wilmington, Delaware. “It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.”
The nominees are all Washington veterans with ties to the Obama administration, a sign of Biden’s effort to resume some form of normalcy after the tumult of President Donald Trump’s four years in office.
There are risks to choosing experienced hands from the previous Democratic administration. Besides Republican attacks, progressives fret that Biden is tapping some officials who were too cautious and incremental the last time they held power.
Still, Biden’s nominees were a clear departure from Trump, whose Cabinet has largely consisted of men, almost all of them White. Biden’s picks included several women and people of colour, some of whom would break barriers if confirmed to their new positions.
On Tuesday they stood behind Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris spaced apart and wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a contrast with Trump and many of his top aides who have largely eschewed facial coverings.
The president-elect’s team includes Antony Blinken, a veteran foreign policy hand well-regarded on Capitol Hill whose ties to Biden go back some 20 years, for secretary of state; lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas to be homeland security secretary; veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be US ambassador to the United Nations; and Obama White House alumnus Jake Sullivan as national security adviser.
Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, was picked to serve as director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold that post, and former Secretary of State John Kerry will make a curtain call as a special envoy on climate change. Kerry and Sullivan’s position will not require Senate confirmation.
With the Senate’s balance of power hinging on two runoff races in Georgia that will be decided in January, some Senate Republicans have already expressed antipathy to Biden’s picks as little more than Obama world retreads.
Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and potential 2024 presidential candidate, argued that Biden is surrounding himself with people who will go soft on China.
Senator Marco Rubio, another potential White House hopeful, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will consider Blinken’s nomination, broadly wrote off the early selections.
“Biden’s Cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” Rubio tweeted.
Biden said his choices “reflect the idea that we cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits.” He said he tasked them with reasserting global and moral leadership, a clear swipe at Trump, who has resisted many traditional foreign alliances.
The president-elect said he was “struck” by how world leaders have repeatedly told him during congratulatory calls that they look forward to the US “reasserting its historic role as a global leader” under his administration.