Biden reveals national security team stacked with Obama veterans

Biden reveals national security team stacked with Obama veteransNovember 23, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden formally announced a slate of Cabinet nominations on Monday, stacking his incoming foreign policy and national security team with experienced public servants and veterans of former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Biden’s selections include Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of Homeland Security, Avril Haines as director of national intelligence and John Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate.

The transition team’s announcement also confirmed reports from over the weekend that Biden had chosen Antony Blinken as secretary of State, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba and moved to the United States when he was a year old, was the former deputy DHS secretary in the Obama administration. He is currently a partner at the law firm WilmerHale.

If confirmed, Mayorkas would become the first Latino DHS secretary. Under the Trump administration, the department pivoted away from its broader homeland security mission to focus heavily on immigration enforcement. Activists are certain to pressure Biden to roll back the scores of agency rules and regulations that restricted immigration under the previous administration.

Jeh Johnson, Obama’s DHS secretary from 2013-2017, said on Monday that he was “very, very pleased” with the choice of Mayorkas to take over the department under Biden’s administration.

Mayorkas has a “well-rounded experience” with DHS, Johnson said, citing his tenure as deputy secretary, as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and as a U.S. attorney in southern California. “I can’t think of anyone more qualified to take on the leadership of DHS,” Johnson said.

Haines’ confirmation would also be historic, as she would become the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. intelligence community and the first female director of national intelligence. Haines is another former Obama administration official, having served as former deputy national security adviser and deputy CIA director.

Haines also was one of the principals at the strategic advisory firm WestExec Advisors, launched in 2018 by fellow Obama administration alumni Blinken and Michèle Flournoy — a former under secretary of Defense for policy who is widely viewed as the frontrunner to lead Biden’s Pentagon.

Although Haines has drawn scrutiny from progressives within the Democratic Party, former CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos said she was “a great choice” and praised her “herculean work ethic.”

“Both having served at CIA and the White House in senior roles, she has a tremendous understanding of how intelligence can support policy and how the interagency process works,” said Polymeropoulos, who was a CIA officer for 26 years before retiring in 2019.

“She also has existing relationships with foreign leaders that will benefit the intel-diplomacy role that she will play,” he added.

Sue Gordon, the former principal deputy director of national intelligence under the Trump administration, also hailed Haines as a “fantastic choice.”

Kerry, a longtime Massachusetts senator and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, served from 2013-2017 as Obama’s second secretary of State after Hillary Clinton’s departure from Foggy Bottom.

He was an early backer of Biden in the 2020 Democratic primaries, and served along with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as one of the two co-chairs of a climate change unity task force that brought together members of the Democratic Party’s progressive and establishment wings.

Marc Jacobson, a former senior Defense Department official under the Obama administration and historian of special operations now at Syracuse University, said on Monday that “the Kerry pick is really incredible from a structural standpoint.”

His selection, Jacobson argued, is “an admission that our mid-20th Century national security structures were not designed to deal with some of the more holistic and potentially existential threats, in this case, climate change.”

Under Biden’s administration, there will be a Cabinet-level official “who will have a seat at the [National Security Council] who can look at an issue that is domestic and international — crossing over that artificial line that policymakers draw. Really smart,” Jacobson said.

The personnel announcement from the Biden transition team comes after Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming White House chief of staff, revealed on Sunday that the president-elect would name his first Cabinet officials on Tuesday.

Later Sunday, several media outlets reported that Biden had tapped Blinken, a foreign policy adviser; Sullivan, a domestic policy adviser; and Thomas-Greenfield, a veteran diplomat, for their administration roles.

Natasha Bertrand, Lara Seligman, Martin Matishak and Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.

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