On Monday, November 23, President-elect Biden announced the first members of his cabinet – his national security team. Biden is slated to deliver remarks about his picks tomorrow in Wilmington.
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State
Blinken is a long-time Biden foreign policy advisor, including most recently on the Biden campaign. He is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of WestExec Advisors, a strategic risk management group he started with Michèle Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (and rumored to be top of Biden’s short list for Defense Secretary). From 2015 to 2017, Blinken was Deputy Secretary of State. He previously served as Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama. While in this position, Blinken helped craft U.S. policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as help craft the U.S. government’s response to the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea. During the first term of the Obama administration, Blinken was National Security Advisor to then-Vice President Biden and is credited with being a driving force behind the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce U.S. combat troop deployment, though he has been a vocal critic of President Trump’s troop drawdown in Syria.
From 2002 to 2008, while Biden was Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken served as Democratic Staff Director for the Committee. Blinken then joined Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign, before becoming a member of the Obama-Biden transition team. While on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken was also a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Blinken was also a partner at the private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners, though he recused himself in 2020 to join the Biden campaign. Blinken earned his bachelor’s from Harvard University and his J.D. from Columbia Law School.
Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security
Mayorkas is the former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. He is currently a Partner at Wilmer Hale, where he leads the firm’s COVID-19 Task Force. Mayorkas played several prominent roles in the Obama-Biden administration, initially leading Obama’s transition team for the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. Mayorkas was appointed as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2009, where he was credited with quickly implementing DACA and the agency’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In 2014, Mayorkas was confirmed by the Senate to be the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, where he helped develop and enhance cybersecurity capabilities.
Mayorkas has previously served as Assistant United States Attorney from 1989 to 1998 and as United States Attorney from 1998 to 2001 in California. While U.S. Attorney, Mayorkas created the Civil Rights Section to prosecute hate crimes and served as Vice Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Subcommittee on Civil Rights. After leaving the Obama-Biden administration, Mayorkas served as Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Cyber Leadership Council. He received his bachelor’s from U.C. Berkeley and his J.D. from Loyola Law School.
Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence
Haines served as Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama from 2015 to 2017. She also served as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2013 to 2015 and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council. Haines was Deputy Chief Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2007 to 2008 when then-Senator Biden was chairman. She will be the first woman to serve as the Director of National Intelligence.
After leaving the Obama administration, Haines became a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University, Deputy Director of Columbia World Projects, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Haines has led the Biden Transition’s National Security and Foreign Policy Team since it was created in June 2020. Haines earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Thomas-Greenfield is a distinguished former Foreign Service Officer who previously served as Ambassador to Liberia, Director General of the Foreign Service, and Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs. Most recently, she was senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group and a Distinguished Resident Fellow in African Studies at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. She is the head of the Biden Transition’s State Department Agency Review Team.
Thomas-Greenfield previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration from 2004 to 2006, and as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs from 2006 to 2008. Thomas-Greenfield has also served in postings in Liberia, Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Prior to joining the State Department, Thomas-Greenfield taught political science at Bucknell University. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin.
Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor
Sullivan served in the Obama-Biden administration as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and National Security Advisor to then-Vice President Biden. Sullivan was one of the top U.S. officials who secretly met with Iranian counterparts in negotiations that laid the foundation for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly called the Iran Nuclear Deal. He was also instrumental in shaping the administration’s policy towards Libya, Syria, and Myanmar.
Sullivan was a senior policy adviser on Secretary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and deputy policy director on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary campaign. Sullivan was part of Obama’s debate preparation team for the general election in 2008. Before joining the Biden campaign, Sullivan worked for Macro Advisory Partners and was a nonresident senior fellow in Carnegie’s Geoeconomics and Strategy Program and Magro Family Distinguished Fellow at Dartmouth College. Sullivan also served as a senior policy adviser and chief counsel to Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Sullivan received his bachelor’s and J.D. from Yale, and his master’s from Oxford.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
Kerry was the 68th U.S. Secretary of State, a former Massachusetts Senator and Lieutenant Governor, and a former Democratic nominee for President. While on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry led hearings investigating drug trafficking in Latin America which exposed aspects of the Iran-Contra scandal. While Secretary of State in the Obama-Biden administration, Kerry negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran Nuclear Deal, signed the Paris Climate Agreement on behalf of the U.S., and is credited with facilitating the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Kerry took over Chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009 after Biden resigned his chairmanship and Senate seat to become Obama’s Vice President. Kerry is a Vietnam War veteran and has been awarded three Purple Heart Medals, the Silver Star Medal, and the Bronze Star Medal for valorous conduct. Kerry served in the U.S. Senate from 1984 through 2013, resigning his seat to become Secretary of State. During his Senate tenure he was a longstanding member of the Senate Finance Committee. He was his party’s presidential nominee in 2004, losing to President Bush narrowly. Kerry earned his bachelor’s from Yale University and his J.D. from Boston College.
Biden is again elevating the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to a cabinet-level post. For the first time, he is elevating the Special Envoy for Climate position to cabinet-level as well. Both Thomas-Greenfield and Kerry will be members of the President’s cabinet and members of the National Security Council, along with Blinken, Haines, Mayorkas, and Sullivan. The elevation of these two posts are an indication of the importance of multilateralism and climate change in the Biden Administration.
Notably, these nominees all have extensive experience in the agencies or positions they have been nominated to and will enter the jobs with a deep understanding of the institutions they will run. Most of the team also worked together in different capacities in the Obama Administration. Especially with the truncated formal transition timeframe, those two factors will help ensure that they are able to hit the ground running in their respective positions and as a team.
Blinken, Mayorkas, Haines, and Thomas-Greenfield require Senate confirmation for their positions. Traditionally, these positions have been among the first nomination hearings to be completed. In 2009, Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano were confirmed by the Senate to be Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security, respectively, on January 21. Given the roles they each played in the Obama Administration, we expect there to be a critical focus of Obama Administration foreign policy during their hearings.
Sullivan and Kerry’s positions do not require Senate confirmation.