With the transition from the Trump administration to start formally, the President-elect Joe Biden has started picking his Cabinet members.
Importance of the Chief of Staff
Ron Klain is the President Elect’s choice to be White House chief of staff.
“The Chief of Staff is one of the most critical positions in the Executive branch in the US. Instead of rank loyalists and sycophants, most previous Presidents have appointed individuals who can tell them their unvarnished opinions. In other words, the chief of staff acts as a “gatekeeper” who often has to break the unpleasant news to the president. The appointment of Ron Klain by US President-Elect Joe Biden is not surprising given the long history that both individuals share. Klain has been Biden’s closest aide for over twenty years. This makes it more likely that Klain will be able to function effectively,” explains Bappaditya Mukherjee, Former Faculty, State University of New York, Geneseo.
According to Mr Mukherjee, “Among the number of important positions that he has held since graduating from Harvard Law School, the most pertinent for the present moment would be his experience as former President Obama’s Ebola czar. Throughout the summer of 2020, Klain has made a number of public utterances calling for a unified federal response to the COVID outbreak. And, his public health experience will be very useful and Biden tries to salvage the shoddy response of the US under outgoing President Trump. Klain’s conciliatory and moderate demeanour will help in bridging the ideological rifts that are likely to bedevil the Biden tenure.”
“In particular, Biden would be relieved that Klain’s appointment has been largely deemed acceptable by the far-left “progressive” wing of the party that backed Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Klain is one of the few centrists within the Democratic Party that the leading progressives do not detest. Leading Progressive figures like Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar have welcomed this appointment. Waleed Shahid, the communications director for the progressive political action committee Justice Democrats said Klain “understands the Democratic Party has moved in a more progressive direction”. Biden will need this goodwill as the progressive wing of the party asserts itself more forcefully inside and outside Congress” added Mr Mukherjee.
Secretary of State Anthony J Blinken
The appointment of former US Foreign Service officer Anthony J Blinken as President-elect Biden’s Secretary of State will be hailed by those that favour an active engagement of US leadership in global governance. “He belongs to the constituency in the US foreign policy establishment that favours active global engagement. However, as Blinken had conceded in a newspaper article in early 2019, “President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy — or its progressive cousin, retrenchment — is broadly popular in both parties.” This means that Blinken will face significant opposition in modifying the current course of US foreign policy. During his time out of government service, Blinken often expressed concern with the hostility of the Trump administration to international norms and obligations,” opines Mr Mukherjee.
Overall, it is reasonable to expect that as Secretary of State, Blinken’s personal preference will be to employ his bureaucratic skill to override the bipartisan scepticism for expanding the US footprint abroad.
Sharing his views, Bappaditya Mukherjee says, “During the course of the Presidential campaign, Blinken public utterances as Biden’s Chief Foreign Policy adviser indicated that he would push for a modification of Trump’s hard-line policy on China. He represents that section of the Washington foreign policy elite consensus that the status quo in US relations with China was unsustainable. This is why there was a grudging acceptance of Trump’s China policy. At the same time, Blinken and his cohorts have criticized the blunt methods used by Trump that has strengthened China’s position vis-à-vis the US. Blinken has been particularly concerned that the US relationship with its allies like the EU nations have weakened under Trump. Compared to the US, China has invested heavily is forging strong alliances as they view these as a core source of their strength. Similarly, while the US under Trump has actively undermined international institutions, China has expanded its role in them.”
Notwithstanding the deterioration in US-China relations, Blinken has expressed hope that the US must actively work with China in certain issue areas of global governance (e.g. climate change, global pandemics, weapons proliferation). If Blinken is able to advance this agenda, it will be a significant departure from the zero-sum nature of US-China relations under Trump.
“Under Blinken’s leadership, the Biden administration is likely to focus quite a bit on the green agenda with the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is also a high priority for the Democratic Party’s base. This will impact not only the US but also other countries like India facing environmental issues of their own. Blinken is likely to be a votary of pushing India to adopt stricter environmental standards in exchange for market access. This carries the risk for India-US trade ties. On the other hand, Blinken has publicly expressed the intent to bolster India-US defence ties. As President Joe Biden’s long time foreign policy advisor, Blinken had played a critical role in two recent landmarks in India-US ties: (1) The civil nuclear agreement and (2) classifying India as a major defence partner overriding congressional opposition,” Mr Mukherjee opines.
It appears that the underlying hawkishness of the Democrats driven by the Russia investigation may continue under Blinken. He has indicated that US policy towards Israel will be friendlier than was the case under Obama.
“This may bring him into conflict with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, represented by Congresswomen like Rashaida Talib. Talib and her fellow travellers link the Palestinian cause with the issue of minority rights in the US. The approach of Talib is in contrast to Blinken, who is firmly a member of Washington’s professional foreign policy class that has a far more elitist, bipartisan worldview,” Mr Mukherjee concludes.