Biden picks Blinken, Mayorkas, Thomas-Greenfield for top foreign policy and national security posts

Transition Tracker Daily by Ballotpedia

Welcome to Ballotpedia’s Transition Tracker

November 24, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) is the projected winner of the 2020 presidential election. The Electoral College will meet on December 14, 2020, to vote for the next president of the United States.

In 2016, there were 1,714 government positions subject to presidential appointment: 1,242 positions required Senate confirmation and 472 did not. Every weekday, Ballotpedia is tracking potential Cabinet nominees, appointments, and news related to the Biden presidential transition.

Appointments and Nominations

Biden announced six leading members of his foreign policy and national security team on Monday. He said of his selections, “Their accomplishments in diplomacy are unmatched, but they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet the profound challenges of this new moment with old thinking and unchanged habits — or without diversity of background and perspective. It’s why I’ve selected them.”

Antony Blinken, secretary of state

Antony Blinken started in government service at the State Department. He held several foreign policy positions throughout the Clinton and Obama administrations, including assistant to the president, principal deputy national security adviser, and deputy secretary of state. From 2002 to 2008, Blinken was the Democratic staff director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, overlapping with Biden’s time as committee chairman from 2007 to 2009.

Foreign Policy reported, “Blinken’s nomination could also signal a return to prominence for what traditionally was a main driver of U.S. foreign policy. During the Obama administration—and Trump’s single term—some diplomats said that the White House and National Security Council had overshadowed the State Department, leaving it with less clout and influence in making foreign policy. Especially given Blinken’s close relationship with Biden, the pick is seen as a shot in the arm for the State Department.”

Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of homeland security

Alejandro Mayorkas was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Central District of California for nearly a decade, where he focused on white collar crime. He then became a U.S. attorney; his cases involved financial fraud, public corruption, and violent crime. He served in the Obama administration as the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the deputy secretary of homeland security, where he helped implement the DACA program. Born in Cuba, Mayorkas is the first Latino and immigrant nominated for this position. 

CBS News reported, “Mayorkas’ selection signals that the incoming Biden administration will prioritize immigration policy, which DHS typically enacts and implements, along with the Justice Department.”

Avril Haines, director of national intelligence

Avril Haines was the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2013 to 2015. During the Obama administration, she also served as an assistant to the president and principal deputy national security adviser. She previously worked on Capitol Hill as deputy chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If confirmed, Haines will be the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence.

Former CIA Director John Brennan said, “The real purpose [of the DNI position] is to have someone who can serve as an effective orchestra conductor of the 17 intelligence agencies, so what comes out is a symphony and not a cacophony. Her easiest job will be to work with the new administration. She knows these people.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

Linda Thomas-Greenfield worked at the U.S. Foreign Service for 35 years, where she held an ambassadorship in Liberia from 2008 to 2012 and positions in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. From 2012 to 2013, she was the director general of the Foreign Service.

The Associated Press reported, “Other than secretary of state, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is often the most high-profile foreign policy portfolio in a presidential administration. The influence of these ambassadors has waxed and waned depending on the nature of the president and secretary of state, but Democratic administrations have traditionally leaned more heavily on them than Republicans have.”

John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate

John Kerry is a former secretary of state, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, and Democratic presidential nominee. He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2009 to 2013. While secretary of state, Kerry was involved in the negotiations for the Paris Climate Accord. 

“This marks the first time that the [National Security Council] will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the Biden Transition said in a press release.

Jake Sullivan, national security advisor

Jake Sullivan was a director of policy planning and deputy chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He also served as national security advisor to Biden during his vice presidency. Sullivan, a Yale Law graduate and Rhodes scholar, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.


  • The General Services Administration ascertained the results of the presidential election on Monday, identifying Biden as the apparent winner and allowing him access to resources and funding to help with the transition. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter, “Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision.”
  • Biden is expected to nominate Janet Yellen for secretary of the Treasury. She was the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, where she was appointed during the Obama administration. She was also the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration. 

What We’re Reading

Everything on Ballotpedia is free to readBut it isn’t free to produce. We depend on people like you to ensure that access to neutral and accurate information about American politics stays available to all. Donations to Ballotpedia are tax deductible and go directly toward producing great content like this newsletter.Please consider donating today! >   DONATE TO BALLOTPEDIA