Senate Slowly Confirms Biden Cabinet Picks

Photo by the New York Times.

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 26, 2021

The Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as Secretary of State today. Mr. Blinken was approved by a vote of 78 to 22, the Times said. Blinken was one of several nominees that then-President-Elect Joe Biden announced on Nov. 24, 2020. In a televised press conference, Biden named his picks for major foreign policy and national security positions. The nominees “will not only repair but reimagine our foreign policy”, Biden told reporters.

“America is back,” Biden said, “ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.”

With that sweeping message, Biden introduced his nominations. The nominees are:

  1. Antony Blinken (Secretary of State)
  2. Alejandro Mayorkas (Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security)
  3. Avril Haines (Director of National Intelligence)
  4. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (Ambassador to the United Nations)
  5. Jake Sullivan (National Security Advisor)
  6. John Kerry (Special Presidential Envoy for Climate)

Antony Blinken served as National Security Advisor to then-Vice President Biden (2009-2013). He also was Deputy National Security Advisor (2013-2015). Then he became Deputy Secretary of State (2015-2017). Biden described him as one of his most trusted advisors. Blinken returned the compliment in spades during his remarks, telling Biden: “Working with you, having you as a mentor and friend, has been the greatest privilege of my professional life”.

But he also opened up about his history: his grandmother fled Communist Hungary. His mother was chairwoman of the American Center for Students and Artists in Paris; his father was a U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. Blinken’s stepfather was a Holocaust survivor — one of 900 children at his school in Poland, but the only one to survive. His parents and sister were killed during the Holocaust.

Blinken told the story of his stepfather as a teenage boy in Bavaria. “At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the woods in Bavaria,” Blinken continued. “From his hiding place, he heard a deep rumbling sound. It was a tank. But instead of the Iron Cross, he saw painted on its side a five-pointed white star […] He ran to the tank. The hatch opened. An African American GI looked down at him. He got down on his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him before the war. God bless America. The GI lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom.”

“That’s who we are,” Blinken emphasized. “That’s what America represents to the world, however imperfectly.”

For Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Biden nominated Alejandro Mayorkas. Mr. Mayorkas, 61, was born in Havana, Cuba. Like Blinken’s family, Mayorkas’ family emigrated from Communist countries. “My father and mother brought me to this country to escape Communism. They cherished our democracy and were intensely proud to become American citizens, as was I,” Mayorkas said on Nov. 24.

Mayorkas served as U.S. Attorney for California for 12 years. He served as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009-2013. USCIS oversees the naturalization process that helps people obtain green cards and become American citizens. As head, Mayorkas oversaw DACA. He later served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (2013-2016). If confirmed, he will be the first Latino (and first immigrant) to lead the Department.

For Director of National Intelligence, Biden nominated Avril Haines. Ms. Haines, 51, earned a J.D. from Georgetown University. She served as the first female Deputy Director of the CIA (2013-2015). Haines assisted the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in carrying out his duties and responsibilities, including gathering and processing national security information. She then replaced Blinken as Deputy National Security Adviser (2015-17). “She always calls it as she sees it,” Biden says.

Ms. Haines was confirmed by the Senate this week as well, making her the first woman to become Director of National Intelligence.

Please stay tuned for further updates.

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