US White House

President-elect Biden filled out most of the top tier of his foreign policy team today, starting with Tony Blinken as secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser.

Breaking it down: The six picks Biden announced today all held senior roles in the Obama administration, often adjacent to the jobs for which they’ve now been selected.

  • Both Blinken and Sullivan served as national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden, and Blinken was later deputy secretary of state.
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s pick for UN ambassador, is a career diplomat who served most recently as assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
  • Avril Haines, nominated to be director of national intelligence, was President Obama’s deputy CIA director and deputy national security adviser.
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick to run the Department of Homeland Security, served as Obama’s deputy DHS secretary.
  • John Kerry, Obama’s former secretary of state, will be Biden’s climate envoy — the first person to hold that portfolio on the national security council.

Between the lines: Other than Kerry, Biden’s nominees are likely unfamiliar to most Americans — but they’re deeply familiar with the agencies they’ve been asked to lead.

  • Biden wanted low-key, process-oriented nominees, a source familiar with the process told Axios.
  • “He knows everybody. But these are the people he really knows, and he’s going with ’em,” the source said.

Worth noting: Biden didn’t announce his nominee to run the Pentagon today. Michèle Flournoy, formerly Obama’s under secretary of defense for policy, has long been seen as the front-runner.

  • He also didn’t name his pick for CIA director. The names floated for that post include Tom Donilon, formerly Obama’s national security adviser, and Michael Morell, the former deputy CIA director.

Flashback: President Trump’s picks were flashier — a legendary general in James Mattis, a blue chip CEO in Rex Tillerson — and more controversial, at least in the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

  • Trump’s original foreign policy team also included two politicians with presidential ambitions: Nikki Haley at the UN and Mike Pompeo at CIA.

Few recent Cabinet picks have generated as many headlines as Obama’s choice of Hillary Clinton to run the State Department. He also kept a Republican, Bob Gates, in the Pentagon and recruited retired four-star general Jim Jones as national security adviser.

  • As Obama documents in his newly released memoir, his own foreign policy instincts often clashed with those of the other principals, particularly Gates and Clinton.
  • There were grumbles in Foggy Bottom and at the Pentagon that foreign policy was micromanaged by Obama’s White House and a small circle of trusted aides.

George W. Bush, by contrast, was surrounded by Washington heavyweights with competing agendas, as Robert Draper documented in his recent book “To Start a War.”


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