Joe Biden on Tuesday introduced the team of foreign policy specialists 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 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 including 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.”
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 chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As secretary of state, Blinken would 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 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 United States 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.
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.
Biden’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said he would name an economics team next week. Several news outlets have reported that will be helmed by former Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary.