By Jack Walker
Despite President Trump’s best efforts to nullify, reject and overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, the presidential transition period has now begun with Joe Biden naming some of his key staff over the past few days.
Who are they and what should we expect?
A return to multilateral diplomacy
Donald Trump’s foreign policy legacy is one of bitter isolationism and alienation. There are too many individual foreign policy decisions to list here, but the infamous emphasis on building a wall on the Mexican border, a trade war with China and the decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem (along with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital) have all left the United States with few friends on the international stage.
Joe Biden’s nomination of Anthony Blinken as his Secretary of State will see a return to international cooperation from the United States. Blinken was Biden’s foreign policy advisor while he was Vice-President, and so we should expect to see a similar foreign policy to that of the Obama era — relying on multilateral decision-making that will see benefits not only for the United States, but the rest of the world too. During the Obama administration, Blinken also served as Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Secretary of State, highlighting his experience in foreign policy.
For his own National Security Advisor, Biden has chosen Jake Sullivan. Sullivan was Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy advisor during her presidential campaign in 2016, and before that served as her Deputy Chief of Staff when she was Secretary of State to Obama. Sullivan will add to the experienced staff around Biden, shifting away from a reliance on political and business connections that made up the vast majority of the Trump Cabinet, instead looking more to people with proven track records in government.
With a proven track record, the President-elect has nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN). Thomas-Greenfield most recently worked as the Assistant Secretary of State at the Bureau of African Affairs but previously has held foreign postings in Europe, Asia and Africa. As an African-American woman, Thomas-Greenfield brings not only deep experience in global foreign policy but also crucial diversity to the Biden Cabinet – something that the President-elect was keen to emphasise on the campaign trail.
Diversity in the domestic appointments
Diversity within the Biden Cabinet continues in appointments concerning domestic policy. For Secretary of Homeland Security, Biden has chosen Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban-born lawyer who held various positions in the Department of Homeland Security under Obama. He was also appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California by President Clinton.
As Director of National Intelligence, Biden has chosen Avril Haines, who was the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, as well as the (first women) Deputy Director of the CIA under President Obama. Interestingly, Haines was vocal in her support for President Trump’s pick to head the CIA, Gina Haspel; a figure who has been linked to several CIA black sites across the globe, and has previously admitted to helping destroy CIA interrogation tapes.
Biden has previously indicated that some of his appointments may be former Republicans. This nomination certainly suggests that the President-Elect is willing to lend some of the space within his Cabinet to those who may once have been his political adversaries as means of reuniting the country after the Trump presidency.
A special mention for a Special Envoy
Perhaps the most high-profile appointment so far is that of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate – a position created especially for tackling the climate crisis. Biden has chosen former Democratic Senator, Secretary of State and presidential candidate John Kerry as his “energy tsar”. Kerry’s position will also grant him membership to the National Security Council (NSC) and will mean that the United States has, for the first time, a Cabinet member whose position directly covers how climate change affects the security of the United States.
Kerry was chosen by President Obama to sign the Paris Climate Accords on behalf of the United States. President Trump subsequently pulled the United States out of the international agreement, yet Biden has promised to have the U.S. re-enter on day one of his presidency.
Aside from Al Gore, few Democratic politicians have made the climate crisis such a focal point of their political positions, and Biden will be hoping that Kerry proves to be an inspired Cabinet pick.
These positions only make up a small number of the appointments President-elect Biden will have to make. Most of these positions, such as Secretary of State and Secretary for Homeland Security, require Senate confirmation, and as such will be voted upon once the new Senate is sworn in. Others, namely advisory positions, are personal choices so require no confirmation. If a nominee is rejected by the Senate, President-elect Biden will have to select someone else.
This Cabinet harks back to the Obama era, with many of the appointees having had some role in the Obama presidency over its eight years. It is a throwback to global cooperation, to open and transparent democracy, and a commitment to specialists and experts. A far cry from the departing Cabinet assembled by President Trump.