Joe Biden promised his first round of Cabinet picks would “re-imagine” foreign policy, despite decades of combined experience in the government arena.
“They’ll not only repair, they’ll also re-imagine American foreign policy and national security for the next generation,” Biden said Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware, a day after the administrator of the General Services Administration deemed him president-elect, allowing transition activities to take place from the outgoing administration of President Trump.
Taking an apparent dig at Trump, Biden added: “They’ll tell me what I need to know, not what I want to know.”
Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken was deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s choice to head up the Department of Homeland Security, formerly led U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under President Barack Obama. United Nations ambassador pick Linda Thomas-Greenfield was Obama’s assistant secretary of state for African affairs and an ambassador to Liberia before that.
Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence pick, was former deputy to Obama CIA Director John Brennan and national security adviser Susan Rice. National security adviser pick Jake Sullivan formerly advised Biden when he was vice president and was deputy chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And John Kerry, selected for a post as special presidential envoy for climate, was secretary of state under Obama and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, having also served 28 years as a Massachusetts senator.
Much of Biden’s argument that his picks represent a notable shift rested on their demographic diversity.
“We cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits,” Biden said. “For example, we’re going to have the first woman lead the intelligence community, first Latino and immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security, and a groundbreaking diplomat at the United Nations.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris echoed that reasoning.
“When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a Cabinet that looks like America, that reflects the best of our nation,” Harris said. “Today’s nominees and appointees come from different places. They bring a range of different life and professional experiences and perspectives.”
Sullivan, though, elaborated on Biden’s call to “re-imagine” their roles and responsibilities.
“We will be vigilant in the face of enduring threats, from nuclear weapons to terrorism. But you have also tasked us with re-imagining our national security: the unprecedented combination of crises we face at home and abroad, the pandemic, the economic crisis, the climate crisis, technological disruption threats to democracy, racial injustice, and inequality in all forms,” Sullivan said. “The work of the team behind me today will contribute to progress across all of these fronts.”
Much of the reprioritization of national security and foreign policy under the incoming administration is reflected in creating the role of special climate envoy — Kerry’s role.
Biden revealed that there are more new roles centering on his climate change agenda, saying that Kerry “will be matched with a high-level White House climate policy coordinator and policymaking structure to be announced in December.”
The president-elect also subtly recognized pressure being exerted from the left wing of the Democratic Party on climate policy. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other left-wing “Squad” members last week held a rally with Sunrise Movement, a climate activist group, outside of Democratic National Committee headquarters.
“I don’t for a minute underestimate the difficulties of meeting my bold commitments to fighting climate change. But, at the same time, no one should underestimate for a minute my determination to do just that,” Biden said.
Biden offered high praise for his announced nominees while introducing them, saying that “no one’s better prepared” to be secretary of state than Blinken, that Sullivan has a “once-in-a-generation intellect,” and that there is “no one I trust more” than Kerry.