Nov 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden aims to deflect fights over first Cabinet picks

President-elect Joe Biden uses his hands for emphasis as he makes remarks

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has made his choice for secretary of state, three people familiar with the matter tell Axios, moving quickly to assemble a Senate-confirmable Cabinet even as President Trump refuses to concede the election.

The big picture: Biden already has said he's made his choice for Treasury, and both picks may be aimed at defusing confirmation fights with Senate Republicans and internal battles with Democratic progressives.

  • Biden is expected to roll out several top Cabinet picks next week, long before two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 determine which party will control the Senate.
  • Teasing his upcoming Treasury announcement yesterday in Delaware, he said his selection "will be accepted by all elements of the Democratic Party, from the progressive to the moderate coalitions."

Between the lines: So far, Biden's inner circle has remained leak-proof on the names of his final selections. But sources tell Axios that the nation's top diplomatic post will not go to Susan Rice, an indication Biden doesn't want to begin his presidency with a standoff.

  • Some Senate Republicans have sought to demonize her for the Obama administration's initial response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
  • Rice, who was a finalist to be Biden's vice president, could still be tapped to serve in another role in the Biden administration.

Be smart: Several Democrats close to Biden expect him to name his longtime adviser Tony Blinken to State. Biden aides declined to confirm Blinken is the pick.

  • If he is, that could create other openings inside the White House senior staff — in roles including national security adviser. Avril Haines, who served as deputy national security adviser under Obama, is thought to be a leading contender for that position.
  • Amid earlier predictions of a "blue wave" sweeping Democrats to a Senate majority, which did not come to pass, insiders had expected Rice to be tapped for State and Blinken to become the national security adviser.
  • A spokesman for the transition declined to comment for this story.

What we're watching: Biden's earlier remarks about his thinking on a Treasury pick set off speculation on Wall Street that he'll announce former Fed Chair Janet Yellen. But some Democrats close to Biden are not convinced that current Fed governor Lael Brainard is out of the running.

  • Biden announced additional senior White House staff today, including Ambassador Cathy Russell, to head the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.
  • Her husband, Tom Donilon, served as Obama's national security adviser before Rice and is under consideration for a high-level national security post, including director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
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