Joe Biden on Tuesday introduced the team of foreign policy experts he plans to nominate to his administration, led by Antony Blinken as secretary of state, as the president-elect seeks to calm international relations after a tumultuous four years under President Donald Trump.
The appointees, all experienced in their fields, will work with Biden on his goal of restoring US relations with international organizations that Trump spurned in his “America First” approach to foreign policy. Biden has promised to seek multilateral approaches to common problems like climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and arms control.
“It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back,” Biden said. “Ready to lead the world, not retreat from it. Ready to confront our adversaries, not reject our allies. And ready to stand up for our values.”
“This team meets this moment,” he said.
A former deputy secretary of state in Barack Obama’s administration, Blinken will be tasked with rebuilding an agency hollowed out by a loss of top diplomats under Trump while reassuring longtime allies of the US commitment to international relationships.
Blinken spoke movingly about his family’s journey to America, including his stepfather who escaped the Nazis as a child in Poland and greeted a US soldier with the only words he knew in English, “God Bless America.”
Biden also named former Hillary Clinton aide Jake Sullivan as national security adviser and veteran foreign service officer Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations, who would be the highest-ranking Black official named so far.
Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat and a native of Louisiana, promised “Gumbo diplomacy” as a way to make politics personal.
“Wherever I was posted around the world, I’d invite people of different backgrounds and beliefs to make a roux, chop onions for the holy trinity, and make homemade gumbo — my way to break down barriers, connect with people, and start to see each other on a human level: a bit of lagniappe as we say in Louisiana,” she said to nods from her fellow appointees.
For his director of national intelligence, Biden has selected Avril Haines, a former top CIA official with years of experience in the espionage community who would fill a job that Trump had largely reserved for people better known for their loyalty to him.
And as homeland security secretary, the president-elect has picked Alejandro Mayorkas, a former head of Citizenship and Immigration Services who would become the first Latino and immigrant to lead an agency that has played a central role in Trump’s widely criticized border crackdown. Mayorkas also served as deputy secretary of the department.
Mayorkas, who came to the US from Cuba as a child, also spoke of his family’s American dream.
“My father and mother brought me to this country to escape communism,” he said. “They cherished our democracy and were intensely proud to become United States citizens. As was I. I have carried that pride throughout my nearly twenty years of government service and throughout my life.”
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who served under Obama, was named climate envoy, a move to highlight Biden’s commitment to the issue.
Biden has close relationships with Blinken, who is 58, and Sullivan, 43, who served stints as advisers on national security when he was vice president and worked with his campaign.
Secretary of state is regarded as one of the most prestigious cabinet posts and is fourth in line for the presidency. Serving as the nation’s top diplomat, Blinken will meet directly with foreign leaders around the world and will fill an especially important job for Biden, the former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
National security adviser is a key post in the White House, serving as the gatekeeper of information from dozens of experts in military, diplomatic and intelligence agencies. UN ambassador is also an important post, serving as the voice of the administration on major global issues.
Notably absent from the list is a nominee for defense secretary. Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy had been the favorite for the job but Biden has not yet finalized his choice. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is another contender for the job.
Asked later why he had not named a leader for the Defense Department on Tuesday, Biden said he was creating his cabinet, “a piece at a time here.”
In an essay in Foreign Affairs magazine earlier this year, Biden laid out a blueprint for “diplomacy as the United States’ principal tool of foreign policy,” laying out a process-oriented approach that would lean on “experienced and empowered professionals.”
A graduate of Harvard and Columbia Law School, Blinken worked for Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his 2008 presidential campaign. After advising Biden as vice president, he served as deputy secretary of state and later co-founded WestExec Advisors, a political strategy firm.
As secretary of state, Blinken will lead Biden administration efforts to rejoin international agreements like the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal and is expected to oversee a tougher posture toward China.
Biden’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Biden would name an economics team next week. Bloomberg News reported that will be helmed by former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary.