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US ELECTIONS

The six names leading Joe Biden’s list to become US Secretary of State

Former national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, is seen as a front runner

Joe Biden, Tony Blinken, Susan Rice and John Kerry in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, November 1, 2013. Reuters/File photo
Joe Biden, Tony Blinken, Susan Rice and John Kerry in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, November 1, 2013. Reuters/File photo

US President-elect Joe Biden is not waiting for Donald Trump to concede before he fills the key positions in his administration, including the 71st US Secretary of State.

The pick that would require confirmation from the Senate will be the most indicative of Mr Biden’s foreign policy direction and his attempt to balance different wings and interests inside the Democratic Party.

Former secretaries of state such as Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Madeline Albright shaped to a great degree the policy of their respective presidents and the trajectory of American power abroad.

For Mr Biden, it’s a choice between a confidant, someone influential, appeasing the base, or reaching out to Republicans. These are the names being debated in and around his transition team for the position:

Susan Rice

Susan Rice speaks at an event at Vanderbilt University's Langford Auditorium in Nashville, February, 2020. USA Today 
Susan Rice speaks at an event at Vanderbilt University's Langford Auditorium in Nashville, February, 2020. USA Today 

The former national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama years is seen as a favourite for the position.

Ms Rice was on the shortlist for the vice president pick, has worked in Democratic administrations since 1993 and enjoys a good working relationship with the President-elect.

Helping her case is the extensive experience, gravitas and diversity to the position she might bring, as well as her close working relationship with former President Barack Obama.

But Ms Rice, known for her direct and blunt approach, could face a challenge from senior aides in Mr Biden’s team who are jockeying for the position.

She has also come under attack from the left and the right for her support for the Libya war and comments she made after the assault on Benghazi in 2012.

Tony Blinken

Tony Blinken speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit in 2016, in New York City. Getty Images/ AFP
Tony Blinken speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit in 2016, in New York City. Getty Images/ AFP

If Mr Biden is opting for a close confidant and a Secretary of State who would sail through their Senate confirmation and not generate headlines, Mr Blinken would be his nominee.

The former deputy national security adviser and former deputy secretary of state has been one of the closest aides to the President-elect on foreign policy throughout the campaign.

Mr Blinken is soft-spoken, liked within the democratic establishment but he lacks the gravitas and the presence that Susan Rice would bring to the table.

Bill Burns

William 'Bill' Burns in Sun Valley, Idaho, 2019. Getty Images/AFP
William 'Bill' Burns in Sun Valley, Idaho, 2019. Getty Images/AFP

With more than three decades of experience in the US diplomatic service, Mr Burns would bring unparalleled negotiating skills to the table.

The former undersecretary, deputy secretary of state, and former ambassador has vast experience inside the State Department like no other potential nominee.

He has worked under both Democratic and Republican presidents, negotiated behind the scenes with the US’ toughest adversaries, and is viewed as a good manager.

If Mr Biden is looking for experience and calm diplomacy, Mr Burns could be his choice.

Chris Murphy

Senator Chris Murphy speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo
Senator Chris Murphy speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo

The Senator from Connecticut is a rising foreign policy voice within the Democratic Party.

Known for his anti-war positions, whether in opposing the Yemen war or calling for the end of the war in Afghanistan, Mr Murphy would garner support from the leftist base of the Democratic Party.

He is an eloquent speaker and would be a departure from traditional picks for the position.

However, Mr Murphy is not in the circle surrounding the President-elect and he was seen as closer to his former rival Bernie Sanders during the primary.

Chris Coons

Senator Chris Coons asks questions during an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. June 16, 2020. Reuters
Senator Chris Coons asks questions during an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. June 16, 2020. Reuters

The Senator from Delaware is a personal friend of Mr Biden.

The two men have known each other through Delaware politics for more than two decades and if Mr Biden wants to prize loyalty and steadiness, Mr Coons could be moving to Foggy Bottom.

Mr Coons is well-liked in the Senate and has openly jockeyed for the position.

“Joe Biden and I have very similar, closely aligned views on foreign policy…He’s got a lot of great folks from whom to choose, but if he were to consider me as well, I’d certainly be honoured,” Mr Coons said in September.

Mitt Romney

Senator Mitt Romney speaks during a news conference on October 15, 2020, near Neffs Canyon, in Salt Lake City. AP 
Senator Mitt Romney speaks during a news conference on October 15, 2020, near Neffs Canyon, in Salt Lake City. AP 

The Republican Senator from Utah would be an unconventional pick for Mr Biden but one that could signal his intention to reach across party lines.

Mr Romney was on outgoing President Donald Trump’s list for secretary of state but their relation has dramatically soured over the years and the Republican Senator became the maverick voice in his party to oppose the White House.

A Romney pick for America’s top diplomat under Mr Biden would likely upset many Democrats but could foster a bipartisan foreign policy approach on a significant set of challenges.

Updated: November 18, 2020 09:52 AM

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