President-elect Joe Biden’s choices for Treasury, the State Department and other key security posts offer the nation experience and competence in place of what has been sycophancy, dysfunction and the occasional outright cruelty.
For Americans weary of the churn of the Donald Trump years, the message from the incoming administration is clear: Adults will be back in charge.
The turnover rate in the Trump administration among senior advisers was 91%, and Cabinet positions changed hands 11 times — more musical chairs than any previous administration dating back before Ronald Reagan.
Despite his promise to hire only the “best people,” Trump’s taste in talent ran to the unorthodox at best and at times the incoherent. He installed defrocked intelligence director Mike Flynn as national security adviser (later convicted on felony charges, only to be undeservedly pardoned Wednesday by Trump). Wealthy GOP donor Betsy DeVos was named education secretary. Firebrand conservative congressman John Ratcliffe was tapped to be director of national intelligence, despite padding a résumé reflecting meager relevant experience.
The first tranche of designated replacements from Biden offers smarter, more reliable helmsmanship, and a team that reflects America’s diversity of talent.
► Treasury secretary. Few economic résumés are as gold-plated as Janet Yellen’s. The former chair of the Federal Reserve and president of the highly respected American Economic Association, Yellen, 74, has more experience directing high-level economic policy than almost anyone. These skills are in dire need as the nation’s economy shows signs of faltering amid spiraling rates of coronavirus infections and deaths. “She’s the ultimate steady hand,” financial policy analyst Ian Katz told Axios.
► Secretary of State. Antony Blinken, 58, is a former deputy secretary of State under Barack Obama and national security adviser to Biden as vice-president. Blinken is characterized as a pragmatic centrist committed to multilateral diplomacy and rebuilding alliances frayed under Trump’s watch. During an introduction of Biden nominees Tuesday, Blinken spoke movingly of his stepfather surviving the Holocaust as a child in Europe and being liberated by American troops. “That’s what America represents to the world,” Blinken said.
► Homeland Security secretary. Alejandro Mayorkas is a child of Cuban refugees who fled Fidel Castro’s regime in 1960. A former U.S. attorney for the central district of California, Mayorkas, 61, served as deputy Homeland Security secretary under Obama, where he was architect of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. If confirmed, Mayorkas would be the first Latino in that post and would redirect an agency involved in some of the worst depredations of the Trump era, including the caging of children deliberately separated from their parents at the border.
Other key picks include former Secretary of State John Kerry, 76, as a special presidential envoy for climate change; Avril Haines, 51, ex-CIA deputy director to be the first female director of national intelligence; 35-year diplomatic veteran Linda Thomas-Greenfield, 68, as United Nations ambassador (restoring that post to Cabinet level); and as national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, 43, who led secret negotiations with Iran that led to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Republican critics will have a hard time demonizing these picks as wild-eyed leftists. But several GOP senators have already weighed in, calling the nominees too Ivy League (despite numerous Trump agency chiefs with identical educational pedigrees), too reflective of the Obama years or too hesitant to confront China. They’ll have their chance to question the nominees at their Senate confirmation hearings.
To be sure, picking the best and brightest advisers doesn’t prevent presidents from stumbling into foreign policy debacles, as the Vietnam War showed. Nor does it guarantee a scandal-free administration.
Even so, one thing is already clear: Biden’s serious-minded personnel picks represent an upgrade over Trump’s chaotic crew. You might even call it a transition from the ridiculous to the sublime.