President-elect Joe Biden formally introduced key members of his incoming administration on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the General Services Administration officially certified the election in Biden’s favor.
Now, the Biden transition can begin in earnest.
Biden released the names of six foreign policy and national security team members in a statement on Monday, writing in part: “These individuals are equally as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative.”
On Tuesday, the president-elect stood alongside Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and his newly assembled team to introduce them to the American people.
“I am pleased to announce nominations and staff for critical foreign policy and national security positions in my Administration. It’s a team that will keep our country and our people safe and secure,” Biden began “They embody my core belief that America is strongest when it works with its allies.”
"They'll tell me what I need to know – not what I want to know," Biden said of his appointees.
"I'm pleased to have received the ascertainment from GSA to carry out a smooth and peaceful transition of power,” Biden said, adding: “And to the United States Senate, I hope these outstanding nominees receive a prompt hearing."
But Biden’s main message was simple: “America is back.” It was a sentiment echoed by many of his nominees, as well as Vice President-elect Harris.
“President-elect Biden and I have long known that when we were elected, we would inherit a series of unprecedented challenges upon walking into the White House,” Harris said on Tuesday, adding: “And we also know that overcoming our challenges here at home is a necessary foundation for restoring and advancing our leadership around the world.”
With the incoming team of policy advisers and cabinet members, Harris said, “we are ready for that work.”
Here is what Biden and his nominees / appointees had to say:
Biden tapped veteran government official Antony Blinken as Secretary of State to lead the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world. Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden.
“He will rebuild morale and trust in the State Department, where his career in government began,” Biden said of Blinken. “And he starts off with the kind of relationships around the world that many of his predecessors had to build over years.”
“I know. I’ve seen him in action. He is one of my closest and most trusted advisors,” the president-elect added.
Blinken echoed his new boss’ sentiments, saying it is imperative that the United States begin to rebuild partnerships around the world.
"We can't solve all the world's problems alone. We need to be working with other countries. We need their cooperation. We need their partnership,” Blinken said, also thanking Biden for his continued mentorship and trust.
“Thank you for your trust and your confidence. I will do everything I can to earn it. Working for you, having you as a mentor and friend has been the greatest privilege of my professional life.”
In a lighthearted moment, Blinken added: "I ask forgiveness for my insatiable appetite for bad puns."
Biden’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security is Alejandro Mayorkas, saying the role is “one of the hardest jobs in government.” Mayorkas is a former U.S. Attorney and former Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“After years of chaos, dysfunction, and absolute cruelty at DHS, I am proud to nominate an experienced leader who has been hailed by both Democrats and Republicans,” Biden said of Mayorkas, later adding: “And while DHS affects everyone, given its critical role in immigration matters, I am proud that for the first time ever, the Department will be led by an immigrant, a Latino, who knows that we are a nation of laws and values.”
Mayorkas’ nomination to the DHS marks the beginning of a shift from the Trump administration, particularly on how the American government will tackle immigration. Mayorkas, himself an immigrant from Cuba, helped craft the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which Trump has systematically attempted to dismantle.
“The Department of Homeland Security has a noble mission to help keep us safe and to enhance our proud history as a country of welcome,” Mayorkas said on Tuesday, adding: “I will work day and night in aid of our nation.”
Biden’s administration will be home to the country’s first female Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines. Biden noted that he chose Haines because she is not a politician or a political figure, describing her as a “fierce advocate for telling the truth and levelling it with decision makers.”
“Above all, if she gets word of a threat coming to our shores — like another pandemic or foreign interference in our elections — she will not stop raising the alarms until the right people take action,” Biden continued.
Haines pledged to do just that in her own remarks, saying to Biden: "You have selected us not to serve you, but to serve on behalf of the American people, to help advance our security, our prosperity, our values.”
"You know I have never shied away from speaking truth to power,” Haines continued. “That will be my charge as Director of National Intelligence. I accept this nomination knowing you would never want me to do otherwise."
As Biden introduced Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his pick for UN ambassador, the president-elect confirmed that he plans to bring the position back into his Cabinet.
Biden offered a moving tribute to Thomas-Greenfield and her Louisiana heritage in his address. Describing Thomas-Greenfield as someone who “never forgot where she came from, growing up in segregated Louisiana,” Biden lauded her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.
“Willing to meet with anyone — an ambassador, a student, working people struggling to get by — and always treating them with the same level of dignity and respect,” Biden said. “She’s received overwhelming support from her fellow career Foreign Service Officers. And she will have cabinet status because I want to hear her voice on major foreign policy decisions.”
The two had worked together when Biden served as vice president, when Thomas-Greenfield was the top State Department official in charge of Africa policy during the Ebola crisis.
Thomas-Greenfield also gave a nod to her heritage in her address, sharing that she invites people over to make gumbo — a traditional Louisiana dish — as her way of “breaking down barriers (and) connecting with people.”
“Mr. President-elect, I’ve often heard you say how all politics is personal and that's how you build relationships,” Thomas-Greenfield added, saying her gumbo dinners add her own Cajun twist on personal politics.
Thomas-Greenfield concluded with a similar message of unity that came from her new colleagues: "America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.”
Biden praised Jake Sullivan, his pick for National Security Adviser, as “a once-in-a-generation intellect with the experience and temperament for one of the toughest jobs in the world.”
Sullivan previously served as Biden’s National Security Adviser during his time as vice president.
“Jake understands my vision that economic security is national security,” Biden said on Tuesday. “He will help steer what I call a foreign policy for the Middle Class, for families like his growing up in Minnesota, where he was raised by parents who were educators and taught him the values of hard work, decency, service, and respect.”
In his own address, Sullivan pledged to “advance national interest and to defend our values,” saying his position will tackle more than threats at America’s borders.
“Sir, we will be vigilant in the face of enduring threats, from nuclear weapons to terrorism,” Sullivan said. “But you have also tasked us with reimagining our national security for the unprecedented combination of crises we face at home and abroad: the pandemic, the economic crisis, technological disruption, threats to democracy, racial injustice, and inequality in all forms.”
“The work of the team before you today will contribute to progress across all of these fronts,” he concluded.
Sullivan also had a personal message for Biden, saying: “Mr. President-elect, thank you for giving this kid from the heartland an extraordinary opportunity to serve.”
Before introducing John Kerry in the newly-created position of Presidential Envoy on Climate, Biden took some time to reiterate his commitment to taking an aggressive approach to combat global warming.
“For the first time ever, the United States will have a full-time climate leader who will participate in ministerial-level meetings — that’s a fancy way of saying they’ll have a seat at every table around the world,” Biden said of the new position.
The president-elect then went on to praise Kerry as the best man for the job, calling him “one of my closest friends” who is “speaking for America on one of the most pressing threats of our time.”
“As for the man himself, if I had a former Secretary of State who helped negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement, or a former Presidential nominee, or a former leading Senator, or the head of a major climate organization for the job, it would show my commitment to this role,” Biden said. “The fact that I picked the one person who is all of these things speaks unambiguously.”
John Kerry spoke of the dire need to address climate change as well, praising Biden for his decision to rejoin the Paris climate accord on day one of his presidency. Still, Kerry said, the treaty will not be enough to mitigate global warming — a challenge the United States cannot take on alone.
"To end this crisis, the whole world must come together,” Kerry said. All nations must raise ambition together, or we will all fail together. And failure is not an option."
“I will do all in my power to live up to your expectations and to this moment, for our country and the world,” he added.
Still, Kerry was optimistic about the road ahead for Americans, saying that to tackle the climate crisis, the country must begin “tapping into the best of American ingenuity.”
“The road ahead is exciting, actually. It means creating millions of middle class jobs ... it means making life healthier for citizens across the world,” Kerry said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.