by Sebastian Smith
President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced a foreign policy and national security team crammed with veterans from the Barack Obama years, signalling an end to the upheaval under President Donald Trump and a return to traditional US diplomacy.
Top of the list was former State Department number two Antony Blinken, tapped for secretary of state. Biden also named the first female head of intelligence, the first Latino chief of Homeland Security and a heavyweight pointman on climate issues — Obama-era top diplomat John Kerry.
As Trump continued to make flailing attempts at overturning the results of the election three weeks ago, Biden’s rollout of cabinet names was his biggest step yet signaling he is ready to change America’s direction on January 20.
The list put out by Biden’s team ahead of a formal announcement Tuesday demonstrated a push to bring back the US role of leader in multilateral alliances, in contrast to Trump’s “America first” regime.
“They will rally the world to take on our challenges like no other — challenges that no one nation can face alone,” Biden tweeted. “It’s time to restore American leadership.”
Blinken, a longtime advisor to Biden, will spearhead a fast-paced dismantling of Trump’s go-it-alone policies, including rejoining the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization and resurrecting the Obama-crafted Iran nuclear deal.
Biden named the first woman, Avril Haines, as director of national intelligence, and Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security, the agency whose policing of tough immigration restrictions under Trump was a frequent source of controversy.
Signalling the Democratic president-elect’s campaign promise to raise the profile of global warming threats, he named Kerry as a new special envoy on climate issues.
And in a further message of US reengagement with the international community, Biden named career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador. Jake Sullivan, who also advised Biden when he was vice president under Obama, was named national security advisor.
The picks underline an emphasis on professionals whom Biden already knows well, in contrast to the Trump White House where officials were often picked without having traditional background for the job or proved incompatible and departed in acrimony.
With their long job histories in senior government positions, the incoming team will also have the advantage of readymade relationships both in Washington and on the international stage.
The announcements come against an unprecedented backdrop of Trump refusing to concede defeat and blocking Biden’s access to the normal process for preparing an incoming government.
So far only a slowly growing minority of Republican leaders has denounced Trump’s conspiracy theory that mass fraud robbed him of victory, despite there being no evidence for this.
Many of Biden’s cabinet picks will require confirmation in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority, although this would change if Democrats score an upset victory in two Georgia Senate runoff elections.
– Dwindling options –
The president, meanwhile, has largely halted at least his public work duties, while heading out to a golf course he owns in Virginia half a dozen times since the election.
He has also not taken questions from reporters since the election — a previously unimaginable silence from a president who for most of his time in office sparred near daily with the press.
His options for overturning the election, however, are dwindling rapidly in the face of repeated court defeats and no evidence produced to back his claims.
With Biden having won a comfortable victory, Trump’s last card is to disrupt the normally routine process of state-by-state certification of results, followed by the formal December 14 vote by the Electoral College. However, that too is bearing little fruit.
More cracks appeared in the facade of Republican unity over the weekend with Trump confidant and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie calling the president’s legal team a “national embarrassment.”
Senator Patrick Toomey, from Pennsylvania, said after the court ruling there that Trump had “exhausted all plausible legal options.”
And on Monday, Senator Rob Portman, another Republican, said it was “time to expeditiously resolve any outstanding questions and move forward.”
“There is no more sacred constitutional process in our great democracy than the orderly transfer of power after a presidential election,” he wrote in The Enquirer newspaper.
There was also a push from Trump’s highest profile Wall Street backer, Stephen Schwarzman, heads of the Blackstone private equity group, who told Axios “the country should move on. Agence France-Presse