The Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as secretary of state on Tuesday, a position that makes him the top official in President Joe Biden’s cabinet.
Blinken, a longtime Biden aide who served as deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state under former President Barack Obama, was confirmed 78–22, with all votes against Blinken coming from Republicans.
Prior to his work under Obama, Blinken was Biden’s national security adviser from 2009 to 2013 and a top staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008 while then-Sen. Biden (D-DE) was, during some of that timeframe, committee chair.
During his hearing on January 19, Blinken outlined his priority to “revitalize American diplomacy,” noting the country’s rivalry with China, his mission to counter threats from other adversaries such as Russia, North Korea, and Iran, and the need to stay “engaged” internationally. Blinken said:
American leadership still matters. The reality is, the world simply does not organize itself. When we’re not engaged, when we’re not leading, then one of two things is likely to happen. Either some other country tries to take our place, but not in a way that’s likely to advance our interests and values, or maybe just as bad, no one does, and then you have chaos.
Blinken also defended the Biden administration’s plan to reenter the nuclear deal with Iran, from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018, but said he aligned with the former administration’s stance on China.
“President [Donald] Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China. I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy,” Blinken said. He also agreed with his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, for defining China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims as genocide.
Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) released a statement after the confirmation saying that despite their differences, he looked forward to working with Blinken, especially after Blinken remarked during his hearing on his intent to improve working relations between the State Department and Congress. “While Mr. Blinken and I have our disagreements on a number of foreign policy issues, I am encouraged by his commitments to consult with Congress in his new role,” Risch stated. “I looking forward to working with him … to find solutions to our greatest challenges, including China, Iran, and COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus]”:
— U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (@SenateForeign) January 26, 2021
Senators who voted against Blinken have expressed an array of concerns, most notably Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, who laid into Blinken during his hearing on January 19 for military interventionism. “You’ve been a consistent supporter of military intervention in the Middle East, from the Iraq War to the Libyan War to the Syrian civil war. … The lesson of these wars is that regime change doesn’t work”:
"This idea of regime change has been a disaster for the Middle East!" pic.twitter.com/piZN69zbOb
— Young Americans for Liberty (@YALiberty) January 26, 2021
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, was critical of Blinken’s position on Iran specifically, saying it “will dangerously erode America’s national security,” referencing reentering the nuclear deal and Blinken’s plan to lift some terrorism sanctions against the Iranian regime. Cruz said, “His approach to the Iranian regime is already generating tensions with Congress, and I will engage vigorously with the Biden administration and State Department to prevent and mitigate the dangers they pose to the safety and security of Americans.”
Aside from his national security work, Blinken also cofounded a consulting firm, WestExec Advisors, through which he advised big tech and Wall Street companies, including Facebook, Uber, LinkedIn, Blackstone, McKinsey & Company, and others. Blinken’s financial disclosure revealed he had collected more than $1 million for his services at WestExec in the last two years. Several others affiliated with the Biden administration also worked at WestExec, according to a Politico report, which described the firm as “loaded” with “former top Democratic national security and foreign policy officials who raised money for the Biden campaign, have joined his transition team, or have served as unofficial advisers.”
In addition to Blinken, the Senate has so far approved Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.
Blinken will be sworn into office Wednesday.
Write to Ashley Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.