Transition to Biden begins

Manal Lotfy , Tuesday 24 Nov 2020

The president-elect has announced his top team, including the first woman to head the US Treasury

Transition to Biden begins
From left: Harris, Biden and Jill (photo: AFP)

After capricious and unprecedented days, US President-elect Joe Biden can formally start the transition of power after President Donald Trump spent weeks testing the boundaries of the US Constitution and democracy, doubting the result of the US election in a stress test for the nation’s confidence in the political system and the fairness of its elections. Biden announced his picks for national security and foreign policy jobs in his forthcoming administration. His picks include former secretary of state John Kerry, who is nominated to lead US efforts combatting climate change.

Transition to Biden begins
Thomas-Greenfield, Yellen, Haines, Mayorkas, Blinken, Kerry

Biden also chose Jante Yellen to be the first woman treasury secretary. Kerry, Yellen and several other people set to join the upcoming administration signal Biden’s shift away from the Trump administration’s “America First” policies and a return to US engagement on the global stage.

American institutions are rightfully breathing a sigh of relief, but America is not out of the woods yet as Trump still refusing to concede the election.

The president reiterated his as yet unsubstantiated claims that the 3 November vote had been “the most corrupt election”, saying he will keep challenging the result in court and hitting out at “fake ballots and ‘Dominion”, referring to the vote-counting system he blames for his defeat.

Twitter once again flagged the post almost immediately as “disputed”, hiding it with a warning. 

Trump’s tweet early Tuesday came just hours after he had tweeted that “in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that [General Services Administration (GSA) head] Emily Murphy and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

However, he also mentioned in those posts that: “Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail!”

The GSA said it was acknowledging Biden as the “apparent winner”, after his victory in the state of Michigan was officially certified.

The GSA announcement means the president-elect now has access to top security briefings, office space and government officials as he prepares to take office 20 January. Also, his transition website has now changed to a US government domain.

Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, said the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track”.

In recent days, senior Trump aides, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, had encouraged Trump to allow the transition to begin, telling the president he didn’t need to concede but could no longer justify withholding support from the Biden transition team.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the GSA action “is probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue”. Noting that the nation “faces multiple crises that demand an orderly transition”, Schumer urged Democrats and Republicans to “unite together for a smooth and peaceful transition that will benefit America”.

Mr Biden also unveiled his choices for his foreign policy and national security team, consisting of old colleagues from his years in the Obama administration.

He has appointed Anthony Blinken as secretary of state. Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. He recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Blinken also served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was Biden’s national security adviser when Biden was vice president, thereafter moving to the State Department to serve as deputy to Kerry.

Kerry is appointed as the US climate envoy. While serving as Obama’s secretary of state, Kerry made climate change one of his top priorities. He also negotiated the Iran nuclear deal. 

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry said. “I’m proud to partner with the president-elect, our allies, and young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the president’s climate envoy.”

Biden named lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas as homeland security head; Linda Thomas- Greenfield to be the US ambassador to the United Nations; and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser. Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, is nominated as director of national intelligence — the first woman to hold that post.

Thomas-Greenfield is Black, and Mayorkas is Cuban-American.

One of the most interesting picks is Yellen who was the first woman to chair the US Federal Reserve. Her appointment as the first woman treasury chief is warmly welcomed by the progressive left wing of the Democratic Party.

Progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren, who many have hoped she might get the job, congratulated Yellen. In a tweet, Warren called Yellen “an outstanding choice for treasury secretary. She is smart, tough and principled. As one of the most successful Fed chairs ever, she has stood up to Wall Street banks, including holding Wells Fargo accountable for cheating working families.”

Yellen, the 74-year-old economist, will take the job during one of the most trying economic times in modern history. US unemployment hit a post-war record in April, in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and while the jobs situation has improved, the recovery has slowed in recent months as rates of infection have increased. Millions remain out of work, and women and people of colour have been hit disproportionately hard by the downturn.

Congress has struggled to reach an agreement on a new round of economic stimulus, US national debt is at record levels, and relations with the US’s major trading partners are frayed after the Trump administration’s trade wars.

Donald Trump declined to reappoint Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve after his election in 2016, making her the first central bank chief not to serve two terms since the Carter administration.

Cautious and carefully spoken, Yellen has made few comments about Trump, although when asked last year if she thought Trump “had a grasp” of macroeconomic policy she said: “No, I do not.”

Yellen has recently advocated for more federal spending from Congress to tackle the economic devastation caused by coronavirus.

“There is a huge amount of suffering out there. The economy needs the spending,” Yellen said in a September interview.

Yellen, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, a former assistant professor at Harvard and a lecturer at the London School of Economics, is an expert in labour markets who has highlighted the economic impact of uneven growth in the jobs market. She is married to the Nobel-winning economist and frequent co-author George Akerlof.

In the weeks ahead, Mr Biden could also name Michèle Flournoy as the first woman to lead the Defense Department. Pete Buttigieg, the former Indiana mayor and onetime presidential candidate has also been mentioned as a contender for a cabinet position.

“These officials will start working immediately to rebuild our institutions, renew and reimagine American leadership to keep Americans safe at home and abroad, and address the defining challenges of our time — from infectious disease, to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber threats and climate change,” Biden’s transition team said in a statement.

Most of the appointments will require Senate confirmation.

Biden’s nominations were generally met with silence on Capitol Hill, where the Senate’s balance of power hinges on two runoff races that will be decided in January.

Biden’s emerging cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington and global capitals. And with a roster that includes multiple women and people of colour, some of whom are breaking historic barriers in their posts, Biden is fulfilling his campaign promise to lead a team that reflects the diversity of America.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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