President-elect Joe Biden's transition team made its first cabinet-level announcements today, with an emphasis on foreign policy, diplomacy, intelligence, and national security. His statement read in part:
"These individuals are equally as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative. 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."
While Senate confirmation remains an open question, one of the things that immediately jumps out when reviewing Biden's list is just how dramatically different the incoming team will be from Donald Trump's foreign policy operation.
Secretary of State: Biden will nominate Antony Blinken, a former Deputy Secretary of State, a former deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama, a former National Security Council staffer under President Clinton, and a former staff director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Trump's first choice for Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson, an oil executive with no experience in U.S. foreign policy.
Homeland Security Secretary: Biden will nominate Alejandro Mayorkas, a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the former director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and a former federal prosecutor.
United Nations Ambassador: Biden will nominate former Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service. Trump's first choice for United Nations Ambassador was Nikki Haley, who had no experience in U.S. foreign policy.
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate: Biden will appoint former Secretary of State John Kerry, who'll serve on the National Security Council. Under Team Trump, the climate crisis has been ignored.
Director of National Intelligence: Biden will nominate Avril Haines, a former Deputy Director of the CIA and Deputy National Security Advisor. She'll replace John Ratcliffe, who was literally unqualified for the position before Senate Republicans confirmed him anyway.
White House National Security Advisor: Biden will appoint Jake Sullivan, a State Department veteran and Biden's National Security Advisor during his vice presidency. Trump's first White House National Security Advisor was an agent for a foreign government, who ended up facing felony charges after lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russia.
The diversity of the group is certainly notable and important. Mayorkas, for example, would be the first Latino and immigrant to lead DHS. Thomas-Greenfield will be only the second Black woman to represent the United States at the U.N. Avril Haines would be the first woman to lead the intelligence community.
But I'm also struck by how normal the choices are. After the last four years, we've grown accustomed to bizarre presidential choices for key roles -- members of the president's family, assorted figures Trump saw on Fox News, people with no substantive background in the areas in which they were expected to serve -- and Biden's new list is a reminder of how the executive branch is supposed to work in a functioning administration that values competence.
This is not to say that Biden's choices are perfect or undeserving of scrutiny. Blinken's corporate work, for example, will raise questions that deserve answers.
But if we were drawing up an abstract list of the kinds of folks to fill these roles, we'd expect to see nominees and appointees just like these.
Is this clearing a low bar? Sure, but it's a bar that the outgoing White House never really bothered to acknowledge during the last four years.