President-elect Joe Biden will nominate former deputy CIA director Avril Haines to oversee U.S. intelligence agencies, his transition team said Monday, picking her over Sen. Angus King after rumors of his consideration sparked rumors of a realignment in Maine politics.
Haines, who worked in the administration of President Barack Obama, appeared on Biden’s first list of high-profile nominees and appointees for key positions on Monday, joining Tony Blinken, who was tabbed for secretary of state and Alejandro Mayorkas, who would be the first the first Latino to lead Homeland Security. Haines, a 51-year-old lawyer, would be the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence since the position was created in 2004.
The six picks announced on Monday, almost all of them alumni of the Obama administration, represent a fundamental shift away from President Donald Trump’s policies and personnel selections. They also mark a return to a more traditional approach to America’s relations with the rest of the world and reflect Biden’s campaign promises to have his Cabinet reflect the diversity of the American population.
In making the announcements, Biden moved forward with plans to fill out his government even as Trump refuses to concede defeat in the Nov. 3 election, has pursued baseless legal challenges in several key states and has worked to stymie the transition process. The stakes of a smooth transition are especially high this year because Biden will take office amid the worst pandemic in more than a century, which will likely require a full government response to contain.
Haines was among a handful of Obama-era officials with deep intelligence experience who were floated in media reports on Biden’s transition. Earlier this month, Politico reported that King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and sits on the Senate intelligence panel, was being considered for the post, though it is unclear how serious the speculation was.
King, who endorsed Biden over President Donald Trump in 2020, is a regular guest on cable news channels and is a critic of how the outgoing Republican president has handled the intelligence community, including when Trump fired an inspector general this year. But the senator is 76 years old with an intelligence profile relegated to his eight years in office.
The short-lived speculation led to a tantalizing rumor mill in political circles, however. If King was plucked from the Senate, Gov. Janet Mills would be able to appoint a successor ahead of a 2022 special election for the remaining two years of King’s term. If the replacement were interested in keeping the seat, they would have had to run again in 2024.
Perhaps the best known of the officials picked by Biden on Monday is former Secretary of State John Kerry, who was a senator from Massachusetts and will be the president-elect’s climate envoy after making climate change one of his top priorities as Obama’s secretary of state.
Jake Sullivan, who at 43 will be one of the youngest national security advisers in history, was a top aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before becoming then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser.
Blinken would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance attempts to gut the agency thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30 percent in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
This story was written by Matthew Lee of the Associated Press and BDN writer Michael Shepherd. AP writers Julie Pace, Alexandra Jaffe, and Bill Barrow contributed to this report.