Senate Committee Seeks Assurances of Cooperation in Biden’s Foreign Affairs

January 19, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
President-elect Joe Biden listens as his Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee on Tuesday reviewed a Biden nominee to become secretary of state in a move that represents one of several big changes planned by the new president.

Biden nominated his long-time foreign affairs advisor Antony J. Blinken in hopes he would moderate Trump’s isolationist “America First” policies by seeking more partnerships with allies.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the confirmation hearing asked Blinken about his willingness to seek cooperation rather than confrontation.

“With the end of the Trump administration, we face a stark choice,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. “Does America First mean America alone?”

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said many of the State Department’s most talented personnel have left the agency in frustration or under political pressure in the past four years.

“I’ve never seen a moment like this in terms of our relationship with the State Department,” Menendez said.

Several Republicans asked how Blinken would approach American adversaries, such as Iran as it seeks to acquire nuclear weapons and China as it expands its military and its aggressive trade practices.

“Its policies deliberately damage U.S. interests and values,” Sen. Bob Risch, an Idaho Republican, said about China.

Blinken said, “We have to begin by approaching China from a position of strength not weakness.”

Regarding Iran, he said the United States has “an urgent responsibility” to prevent the Islamic nation from acquiring nuclear weapons. He also agreed that Iran was the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism.

Blinken is coming to the job of secretary of state with a long history of serving Democratic presidents.

He worked on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. Blinken was the Democratic staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when then-Senator Joe Biden was chairman.

During the Obama administration, he was deputy national security advisor and later a deputy secretary of state.

Blinken said he wanted to pursue “the greater good” with foreign countries, particularly allies “to counter threats posed by Russia, Iran and North Korea and to stand up for democracy and human rights.”

In what appeared to be a swipe at the Trump administration’s confrontational policies that alienated some countries, Blinken said in his written testimony, “Humility and confidence should be the flip sides of America’s leadership coin. Humility because we have a great deal of work to do at home to enhance our standing abroad. And humility because most of the world’s problems are not about us, even as they affect us. Not one of the big challenges we face can be met by one country acting alone — even one as powerful as the U.S.”

His moderate stance in foreign relations has won Blinken support from Democrats and many Republicans, including hard right conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“I believe that no party has a monopoly on good ideas,” Blinken said during the hearing.

Several Republican former foreign policy and national security officials wrote a letter recently to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging that Blinken be confirmed as secretary of state. They said he could advance American values.

Biden’s recent statements about his policy goals leave little doubt he wants Blinken to represent a radical departure from the way the Trump administration conducted the nation’s business.

In similar moves, Biden plans to use executive orders as soon as this week to reverse or alter Trump policies on foreign relations issues, such as immigration, climate change and response to the coronavirus.

They would include rejoining the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He also said he would propose immigration reforms that would give millions of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

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