President-elect Joe Biden’s announcement of his first cabinet picks last week were pleasantly unsurprising. The selections were clear evidence of Biden’s centrist inclinations and determination to bring diversity, balance and a touch of creativity to his team. The 80 million or so Americans who voted for Biden last month may quickly tire of his predictability, but for the moment, there is a sense of relief that experienced, centrist and credible grown-ups are back in charge.
Most of the first announcements were to fill national security positions for all but the yet-to-be named secretary of defense. The people selected are known and respected. And the choices make clear that the new president intends to return America to an internationalist, cooperative position on the world stage.
Antony Blinken, nominated for secretary of state, is a longtime Biden adviser. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s pick for national security adviser, is a former top aide to both Biden and Hillary Clinton. Alejandro Mayorkas, a Latino Jew born to Cuban and Romanian Jewish parents, was nominated as Homeland Security secretary, and will be the first immigrant and the first Latino to lead the department. Avril Haines, a former Obama administration national security legal counsel and deputy adviser, is the first woman nominated to be director of national intelligence. And Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career foreign service officer and an African American woman, was designated as United Nations ambassador.
Biden also chose longtime aide Ron Klain as chief of staff, and former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen as treasury secretary — the first woman to serve in the post. Still more centrist, experienced choices.
There was, however, one pick that raised eyebrows — the designation of former secretary of state, senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for the newly created special presidential envoy for climate, a role that will give Kerry a seat on the National Security Council. While the elevated special envoy designation reflects how important climate change is on Biden’s list of priorities, the designation of Kerry fails to excite.
Kerry is an old hand in world climate negotiations, worked in the Senate on a bipartisan climate bill that ultimately failed, and as secretary of state was an architect of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. We are surprised that Biden chose to recycle Kerry rather than showing greater creativity, using the opportunity to elevate a more energetic and exciting advocate for the climate change war Biden wants his administration to lead.
Kerry’s record of leadership accomplishments is uninspiring. His efforts to orchestrate peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians failed. And he led the American delegation into the flawed Iran nuclear deal. We are not alone in our concern. “The only conclusion you can draw,” The New York Post wrote in an editorial, “is that Biden, having vowed to make fighting climate change a top priority, simply wants someone who’ll look like he’s trying hard — but won’t actually get anything done.”
We will see.