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Who are Biden’s front-runners for the Defence and Treasury posts

Michele Flournoy and Janet Yellen are rumoured to be top contenders

Michele Flournoy (left), a politically moderate Pentagon veteran, is regarded by US officials and political insiders as a top choice for President-elect Joe Biden to choose to head the Pentagon. AP Photo
Michele Flournoy (left), a politically moderate Pentagon veteran, is regarded by US officials and political insiders as a top choice for President-elect Joe Biden to choose to head the Pentagon. AP Photo

President-elect Joe Biden began to outline the shape of his administration on Monday, announcing a number of key National Security appointments.

Pledging to install a more progressive cabinet, Mr Biden tapped women and minorities for key posts, and pulled on experienced names that have worked on standout policies from the Barack Obama administration, including the Iran nuclear deal and the normalisation of relations with Cuba.

Notably absent from the newly announced National Security cabinet members was the secretary of defence.

Mr Biden is reportedly not rushing to fill the post and carefully weighing the possible candidates.

Michele Flournoy is now seen as the top contender for the role, but Mr Biden seems to have reservations about nominating her, and is looking elsewhere to examine other possible nominees before making his final decision.

Ms Flournoy is unquestionably one of the most experienced candidates Democrats have to head the Pentagon. But she has clashed with Mr Biden on foreign policy matters in the past.

She was active in escalating the Obama administration’s presence in Afghanistan, which ballooned to 100,000 troops in 2010. The decision to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan was opposed by then-vice president, Mr Biden.

The issue of Afghanistan will likely be high on the foreign policy agenda of the incoming administration as Mr Trump's administration has pledged to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 by January 15, one week before Mr Biden’s inauguration.

“Michele is still at the top of the list but they still want to keep looking – and that’s a change,” a former senior national security official told Politico. The sense is: “Let’s not be rushed here,” he added.

Ms Flournoy also co-founded WestExec Advisers with Antony Blinken, who has been named secretary of state. The company works to facilitate contracts between the Pentagon and weapons manufacturers. Ms Flournoy has deep experience in the defence industry, and was seen as a likely candidate to be Hillary Clinton’s defence secretary in 2016. She also worked as Mr Obama’s Pentagon policy chief.

But as the Democratic Party continues to face an internal struggle between its far-left branches and its centrist majority, some are not entirely sold on Ms Flournoy’s potential nomination.

Ro Khanna, who served as co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign wrote on Twitter: “Flournoy supported the war in Iraq & Libya, criticised Obama on Syria, and helped craft the surge in Afghanistan. I want to support the President’s picks. But will Flournoy now commit to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan & a ban on arms sales to the Saudis to end the Yemen war?”

If appointed, Ms Flournoy would be the first female to hold the post. But Mr Biden’s progressive ambitions may steer him towards another first, with Jeh Johnson also emerging as a top contender for the role, which would make him the first Black secretary of defence.

Mr Johnson led the department of homeland security during the Obama administration.

Undoubtedly, whichever Democrat emerges as the head of the Pentagon, their first challenge will come from Republicans in the Senate, who are expected to challenge Mr Biden’s cabinet picks.

On Monday, when asked by Bloomberg if he expects Republican roadblocks to his cabinet nominations, Mr Biden answered “Are you kidding me?” and laughed.

Marking another first, Janet Yellen has been tapped to run the treasury department, which would make her the first woman to hold the cabinet post.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to head the US Treasury. AFP
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to head the US Treasury. AFP

Mr Biden is expected to nominate the former Federal Reserve Chair to steer the country through the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Yellen is a highly respected figure both at home and abroad, who would bring decades of economic policy experience to the role. She has already advocated for opening fiscal spending taps to revive the US economy.

Ms Yellen "will be a trusted, steady, and pragmatic hand on the helm as the US navigates the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic," said Tim Adams, a former Treasury official who is president of the Institute of International Finance, which represents more than 450 global banking firms.

As treasury secretary, she would also be charged with the difficult task of securing Republican support for Mr Biden’s economic agenda, which includes tax increases on the wealthy and investing trillions of dollars in climate change, infrastructure and education.

Published: November 24, 2020 05:34 PM

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