Mar 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden has ambassadors list in hand

President Biden is seen walking in front of the "United States" lettering on Marine One.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden is reviewing a list of finalists as he prepares to nominate a series of ambassadors to key embassy postings, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The new president has promised to restore alliances and put diplomacy at the center of his foreign policy, with his ambassadors playing a crucial role in listening to host governments and explaining the administration’s policies.

  • It's unclear which posts are on the first list of nominees, but London, Paris and Rome are the most coveted in Western Europe, with postings in China and Japan having the most foreign policy implications.
  • Some final decisions, and announcements, could come as soon as April.
  • The list Biden is considering isn’t exhaustive and doesn’t include all the available openings.
  • Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, and Cathy Russell, director of the Office of Presidential Personnel, are shepherding the process.

The big picture: Biden officials have been tempering expectations among his big-dollar donors, suggesting the president will nominate fewer of them to coveted positions.

  • Wealthy donors are getting nervous they may have already been passed over.
  • Biden will likely draw on so-called political ambassadors — including allies and financial backers — for roughly 30% of the openings.
  • The remaining 70% would go to career Foreign Service Officers.
  • President Trump selected political ambassadors for 44% of his total appointments — higher than the recent 30% norm.

What we are watching: Will Biden choose a bold-face name who made a career in business or politics for his China post?

  • Or will he draw on someone with more diplomatic experience — like Nick Burns, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs — to rely on their technical skills?
  • Biden officials also have weighed prominent Republicans — including Cindy McCain and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — to highlight the importance of bipartisanship in U.S. foreign policy, Axios reported last month.
  • Richard Blum, the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has expressed interest in a foreign posting, the New York Times reported.
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