Feb 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Team Biden eyes McCain, Flake as ambassadors

Illustration of an elephant trunk holding an American flag
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Biden administration officials are weighing nominating prominent Republicans to ambassadorships — including Cindy McCain and former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake — to highlight the importance of bipartisanship in U.S. foreign policy, according to people familiar with their thoughts.

Why it matters: President Biden hasn't put any Republicans in his Cabinet, but a move like this would symbolize a return to the Truman-era adage that partisan politics stops "at the water's edge."

  • It also would signal to other nations the Trump era is over, and Biden speaks for all Americans, not just Democrats.
  • In addition, the potential nominations of two Arizona Republicans who clashed with former President Trump and endorsed Biden could boost Democrats, signaling a big-tent approach in a once-red state the new president won by some 10,000 votes.
  • Biden aides say it's premature to discuss either name, and no decisions have been made about ambassadorships.

What we are hearing: McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain, has been discussed for the United Kingdom, while Flake has been mentioned for South Africa, as well as postings in Europe.

  • Competition for plum ambassadorships, especially in Western Europe, will be intense, with Biden officials already hinting they won’t appoint as many donors as previous presidents.
  • Cindy McCain, who testified to Biden's strengths during a speech at the Democratic National Convention, is likely to end up with an ambassadorship of some kind, though London isn't guaranteed.
  • In addition to being the spouse of the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, she has been a prominent Republican figure herself nationally.
  • Flake cast himself as a traditional Republican and emerged as a critic of Trump. He served as a Mormon missionary to South Africa as well as Zimbabwe.

How it works: Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, is helping manage the process, deciding how to reward various supporters and donors, groups that are typically in the running for ambassadorships.

  • Now that Tony Blinken has been installed as secretary of State, that process is accelerating, but final decisions about who gets what are weeks away.
  • British media reported on the possibility of McCain heading to London in November, but those discussions are more advanced now.
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