Biden tipped to name Tony Blinken as secretary of state

WASHINGTON — US President-elect Joe Biden has chosen long-time foreign affairs adviser Antony Blinken to be his secretary of state, Bloomberg reported Sunday.

Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain said the first Cabinet picks are coming Tuesday and planning is underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration in January as his team moves forward despite roadblocks from the Trump administration.

Bloomberg, citing three people familiar with the matter, said the first pick would be Blinken, who worked as Biden’s national security adviser in the Obama administration.

He also served as deputy NSA to the president and deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration.

Bloomberg also reported that Jake Sullivan, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton, is likely to be named Biden’s national security adviser. Diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield is expected to be named the US ambassador to the United Nations, according to the report.

In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, Blinken, who is Jewish and the stepson of a Holocaust survivor,  highlighted the incoming administration’s commitment to Israel’s security and said it could review a massive arms deal to the UAE as part of preserving Israel’s Quantitative Military Edge.

“One of the things that’s really shaped the vice president’s… career-long support for Israel and its security is the lesson of the Holocaust,” Blinken said earlier this month.

Barack Obama (right) speaking to advisers Tony Blinken (foreground), and Ben Rhodes (background), regarding the Iran nuclear deal, on Sunday, November 24, 2013. (Pete Souza/White House)

“He believes strongly that a secure Jewish homeland in Israel is the single best guarantee to ensure that never again will the Jewish people be threatened with destruction. That’s a profound reason why he’d never walk away from Israel’s security, even at times when he might disagree with some of its policies.”

Former Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren hailed the report, saying that Blinken was a “true friend of Israel.”

Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, meanwhile, responded to the news by saying she hoped Blinken would not try to stop her criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies.

Her comments were an apparent reference to current US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who declared last week that the US would formally designate the anti-Israel Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement “anti-Semitic” and immediately start cracking down on groups affiliated with it.

If nominated and confirmed, Blinken would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.

In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his shortlist to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.

Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Coons’ departure from the Senate would have come as other Democratic senators are being considered for administrative posts and the party is hoping to win back the Senate. Control hangs on the result of two runoff elections in Georgia in January.

Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.

Biden said last week he had settled on his pick for treasury secretary.

Klain said the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.

US Vice President Joe Biden (R) speaks to President Barack Obama (L) as National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (second from R) and the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken look on in the Oval Office, November 4, 2010. (Pete Souza/White House)

“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”

Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to accept the results of the election.

“I, frankly, do think it’s time to — well, it was past time to start a transition, to at least cooperate with the transition,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, on NBC’s ”Meet the Press.” He said the GSA’s designation should happen Monday “because it didn’t happen last Monday morning,” to give the incoming administration “all the time they need.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said there was a “very good chance” Biden would be president and that Biden and his team should have access to relevant information for the transition. After a federal judge’s ruling against the Trump campaign in an election challenge in Pennsylvania on Saturday, GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said the president had “exhausted all plausible legal options” and Toomey congratulated Biden on his win.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican-Alaska, speaks with reporters during the impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 29, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said in a statement Sunday that courts had so far found Trump’s claims to be without merit and called a “pressure campaign” on state legislators to influence the electoral outcome unprecedented and inconsistent with the democratic process. “It is time to begin the full and formal transition process,” she said.

Also Sunday, former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, said on ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome. Christie said Trump’s legal team was a “national embarrassment.”

Looking ahead to the January 20 inauguration, Klain said it is “going to definitely have to be changed” due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that the Biden team is consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and Senate over their plans.

“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.

Inaugurations typically include a traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, remarks by the president and vice president from the Capitol, a lunch with lawmakers in the Capitol rotunda and numerous balls across Washington. All are events attended by hundreds and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people who travel to the nation’s capital.

It’s unclear how public health concerns will affect those traditions.

During the campaign, Biden drew a contrast with Trump on the coronavirus by paring down his own events in response to the pandemic. Biden held smaller gatherings where people were asked to wear masks and adhere to social distancing recommendations from public health experts. Since he won the presidency, Biden has emphasized the importance of mask-wearing.

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