President-elect Joe Biden chose as his director of national intelligence a woman who can talk spycraft as easily as fixing a car or flying a plane.
To lead the State Department, Biden chose a longtime diplomat whose relatives fled pogroms and survived the Holocaust.
As ambassador to the United Nations, Biden picked a Black woman raised in segregated Louisiana by an illiterate father. She served “gumbo diplomacy” across four continents during her 35-year career in the foreign service.
The personal stories helped introduce six officials – most without household names –Biden intends to appoint or nominate to foreign policy posts.
Despite their extensive experience, Biden said new approaches are needed to face major threats such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, cyberthreats and the spread of authoritarianism.
“While this team has unmatched experience and accomplishments, they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits,” Biden said Tuesday at The Queen theater.
Avril Haines is Biden’s nominee to become the first woman to lead the U.S. intelligence community. She is a former deputy director of CIA and deputy national security adviser. He described her as a professional rather than political appointee.
He said that after 10 years of working with her, he knows she also “can talk literature and theoretical physics, fixing cars, flying planes, running a bookstore cafe – all in a single conversation because she’s done all that.”
“If she gets word of a threat coming to our shores, like another pandemic or foreign interference with our elections, she will not stop raising alarms until the right people take action,” Biden said.
Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee to become secretary of state, is a longtime confidant of the former vice president who held top national security and State Department posts during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Blinken described a family tree shadowed by oppression before arriving in the USA. His grandfather fled Russian pogroms. His grandmother fled communist Hungary before helping refugees. And his late stepfather was one of 900 children from his school in Poland to survive the Holocaust.
“America has literally been the last best hope on Earth,” Blinken said of his relatives and others.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield is Biden’s choice to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She spoke of “hope in the struggle” as she recalled growing up poor in Louisiana. The Ku Klux Klan regularly visited her town to burn a cross in someone’s yard, she said in a TEDX talk last year.
The veteran diplomat led the Bureau of African Affairs under the Obama administration. Wherever she was posted, Thomas-Greenfield practiced “gumbo diplomacy” by inviting people of different backgrounds to make a roux and chop onions for the “holy trinity” (onions, bell peppers and celery) in the Cajun tradition.
“It was my way of breaking down barriers, connecting with people and starting to see each other on a human level,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “A bit of lagniappe (or ‘something extra’ in Cajun) is what we say in Louisiana.”
Biden announced Monday his intention to nominate or appoint a half-dozen foreign policy officials for his term, which will begin Jan. 20. They include:
- Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of Homeland Security, who would be the first immigrant and first Latino to hold the post.
- Jake Sullivan as national security adviser.
- John Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate.
Biden is likely to nominate Janet Yellen, a former chairwoman of the Federal Reserve System, as the first woman to head the Treasury Department.