President-elect Joe Biden introduced selections for his national security team on Tuesday, declaring “America is back”.
It was his first substantive offering of how he will shift from the Trump administration’s “America First” policies by relying on foreign policy and national security experts from the Democratic establishment to serve as some of his most important advisers.
Mr Biden’s Washington veterans all have ties to former president Barack Obama’s administration as the president-elect has sought to deliver a clear message about his desire to re-establish a more predictable engagement from the United States on the global stage.
“It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it,” said Mr Biden, at an introductory event at which his selections stood on stage, at least six feet apart and masked.
The president-elect’s team includes Antony Blinken, a veteran foreign policy hand well-regarded on Capitol Hill whose ties to Biden go back some 20 years, for secretary of state; lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas to be homeland security secretary; veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be US ambassador to the United Nations; and Obama White House alumnus Jake Sullivan as national security adviser.
Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, was picked to serve as director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold that post, and former secretary of state John Kerry will make a curtain call as a special envoy on climate change.
Mr Kerry and Mr Sullivan’s position will not require Senate confirmation.
With the Senate’s balance of power hinging on two run-off races in Georgia that will be decided in January, some Senate Republicans have already expressed antipathy to Mr Biden’s choices as little more than Obama world retreads.
Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and potential 2024 presidential hopeful, derisively accused Mr Biden of surrounding himself with “panda huggers” who will go soft on China.
Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate foreign relations committee that will consider Mr Blinken’s nomination, broadly wrote off the early selections as uninspiring.
“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” Mr Rubio tweeted.
But Mr Biden’s transition team hailed the president-elect’s selection as a group of “crisis-tested leaders” who will be ready to hit the ground running in the new administration.
Mr Biden said his choices “reflect the idea that we cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits”. He said he tasked them with reasserting global and moral leadership.
Meanwhile, there were signs on Tuesday that the stalled formal transition of power is now under way.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that Kash Patel, the chief of staff to the acting secretary of defence, is heading the department’s transition work.
The move came a day after the head of the General Services Administration wrote the necessary letter of “ascertainment” acknowledging Mr Biden as the apparent winner of election, triggering the transition process.
The ascertainment gives the incoming president and his team access to officials at federal agencies and directs the justice department to work on security clearances for transition team members and Biden political appointees.
Donald Trump, who continues to press a legal challenge to overturn the election results, again on Tuesday refused to concede his election loss.
Mr Trump tweeted that “the GSA does not determine who the next President of the United States will be”.