Announcing his national security team, Biden on Tuesday called on the Senate to give the nominees “a quick hearing” and “begin the work to heal and unite America and the world.”
The earliest possible for the Senate to consider nominations is on inauguration day, Jan. 20, when former presidents were often able to get swift confirmation from senior national security officials shortly after taking the oath.
But while President Donald Trump still contests the election, McConnell sets the tone for Republicans in the Senate by not publicly congratulating Biden or acknowledging Trump’s defeat. He wants to give the president time to challenge the vote, even as Trump’s legal team has lost most of the cases.
Even though McConnell is ready to accept Biden’s choices for high-level Cabinet positions, the Republican leader should not allow easy Senate confirmation without a political price.
He’s known to conduct difficult negotiations, even in routine business, and Republicans are eager to reimburse Democrats for running out of time with procedural hurdles to Trump’s candidates.
Candidates need 51 votes to be confirmed. Heading into 2021, Republicans have a 50-48 hold on the chamber. But if Democrats win both seats in Georgia in the Jan.5 runoff election, they’ll move to majority control because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is a tiebreaker.
Republican strategist Alex Conant said McConnell was “trying to show some deference to Trump in the hopes of promoting party unity” before the Georgia election.
The result in January is certain to create a restricted Senate. If McConnell retains control, it’s unclear what priorities he would extract from the Biden administration in return for confirmation. If Democrats gain control, they will have no room for dissent among the more progressive or conservative flanks to endorse Biden’s candidates.
Biden deliberately called in senior government officials for his national security team as he pledged a diverse administration reflecting the nation.
Those presented on Tuesday are former members of the Barack Obama administration and decades of Biden in Washington: Antony Blinken is appointed Secretary of State; Alejandro Mayorkas, former Cuban-American federal prosecutor who would be the first immigrant as secretary of homeland security; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, career diplomat, as Ambassador to the United Nations; and Avril Haines, who would be the first woman to become director of national intelligence.
He also announced John Kerry, former secretary of state, senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, as special presidential envoy for climate, and Jake Sullivan, a former senior Hillary Clinton aide, in as a national security adviser. These two positions do not require confirmation from the Senate.
Biden is also expected to bring in Janet Yellen, former Federal Reserve chairperson, as treasury secretary.
Some Republican senators, especially those being watched for their own potential presidential offers for 2024, are opposing Biden’s team as they change their national security credentials.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Mocked Biden for picking a team that “will only strengthen his instinct to be gentle with China.” “
Being tough on China is emerging as a theme among Republicans, echoing Trump in taking a more confrontational approach to economic and military might.
GOP Senator Marco Rubio, 2016 presidential candidate, tweeted that Biden’s squad consisted of Ivy League graduates who “will be the polite and orderly guardians of America’s decline.
Rubio said in a tweet, “I have no interest in going back to the ‘normal’ that has left us dependent on China.”
Another potential hope for 2024, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Tweeted about Team Biden: “What a bunch of corporate and war devotees.”
But silent this week were the potential GOP chairmen of major committees expected to hold confirmation hearings for the candidates.
GOP centrist senators – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – have also refused to weigh in on them, who will be keenly watched as being able to support Biden’s ability to bring his team together.
Mayorkas faces the most difficult path to confirmation, having been narrowly confirmed in a party line vote without GOP support in 2013 as deputy secretary for homeland security.
At the time, he was investigated by the Department’s Inspector General, who later found out that Mayorkas, as Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services , seemed to give special treatment to certain people under the visa program.
Democrats “have a lot of work to do” to persuade Republican senators to support Mayorkas, said a Republican aide who spoke on condition of anonymity on Tuesday to discuss the situation frankly.
Blinken also faces obstacles. Only one Republican voted to confirm him as Assistant Secretary of State in 2014 – former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.
Others, however, may have an easier path to confirmation.
Thomas-Greenfield was twice confirmed in a non-dissenting vote in 2012 as Director General of the Foreign Service and in 2015 as Deputy Secretary of State.
Yellen has been confirmed twice with bipartisan support, most notably as Fed chairman in 2014 with the backing of three sitting Republican senators: Collins, Murkowski and Richard Burr of North Carolina.