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Biden picks Antony Blinken as secretary of state, emphasizing experience and the foreign policy establishment

Vice President Joe Biden with Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John F. Kerry listen as President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki address reporters in November 2013. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President-elect Joe Biden has selected Antony Blinken, one of his closest and longest-serving foreign policy advisers, as secretary of state as he prepares to unveil a slate of new nominees this week that will emphasize a deep well of experience in the foreign policy and national security establishment.

Blinken will be nominated to one of the highest-profile Cabinet positions at a time when Biden is planning to prioritize foreign policy as a major pillar in his administration, with vows to reassemble global alliances and insert the United States into a more prominent position on the world stage.

Soon after taking office, Biden plans to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, stop the U.S. exit from the World Health Organization and resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal. Blinken has been described as having a “mind meld” with Biden on a range of issues that will be important in his early tenure.

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team on Nov. 22 criticized the General Services Administration for failing to ascertain the results of the 2020 election. (Video: The Washington Post)

Blinken’s appointment, first reported Sunday night by Bloomberg News, was confirmed by three people familiar with an announcement scheduled for Tuesday. Jake Sullivan, another top Biden adviser, is expected to be named as national security adviser, according to two people familiar with the announcement.

Biden also is planning to announce Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, giving a former career Foreign Service officer and African American woman one of the most high-profile diplomatic posts in government, according to three people familiar with the decision.

All three expected nominees have decades-long careers working at the highest levels of government, and a deep respect for institutions.

Their placement into key positions offers one of the first windows into the administration Biden is hoping to build. If Trump’s administration was designed to upset the pillars of government and global order, Biden’s appears aimed at rebuilding it with people who have held similar roles in the past. All three expected nominees also served in the Obama administration, a clear sign that Biden will rely on people who held key roles the last time he served in Washington.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to name Antony Blinken as secretary of state to serve in his administration. (Video: The Washington Post)

Thomas-Greenfield served as the top U.S. diplomat for Africa under President Barack Obama, an assistant secretary job that capped her 35-year career in the Foreign Service. Known as “LTG” among State Department rank-and-file, Thomas-Greenfield retired in 2017 after Trump took power. She joined the Albright Stonebridge advisory firm as a senior counselor where she worked with her mentor, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

Thomas-Greenfield is also the leader of Biden’s agency review team for the State Department, a group of trusted advisers who are preparing to realign the department for a Biden administration. She has been leading efforts on promoting diversity at the department and other long-sought changes.

Sullivan has served in the highest levels of the Democratic policy establishment. He worked for Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, moved to the White House to work for Obama and was frequently by Clinton’s side as a foreign policy adviser in her 2016 presidential bid.

On Biden’s campaign, Sullivan made more of a mark on domestic policy, helping him conceive the Build Back Better plan that was key to his economic message. Sullivan traveled extensively with Biden, accompanying him on a train ride through Ohio and Pennsylvania during the campaign.

After Clinton’s 2016 loss, Sullivan taught a class at Yale University, where he earned two degrees (a third came from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar). “I have the humility of the defeated,” Sullivan would frequently say when trying to puzzle out how Clinton lost, according to a 2017 profile in The Washington Post.

Sullivan, a Minnesota native, lives in Portsmouth, N.H., with his wife.

Blinken — who grew up in New York and Paris, and whose stepfather survived the Holocaust, which had an impact on Blinken — got his start in government during Bill Clinton’s administration. He eventually became President Bill Clinton’s chief foreign policy speechwriter.

He later served as the staff director for Biden while he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has also worked on his presidential campaigns.

He joined Biden’s staff when Biden was vice president, leading a broad portfolio that included overseeing Iraq and crafting a proposal for three autonomous regions in the country.

“We would not have gotten out of Iraq in a way that left the government with a fighting chance to make it without Tony Blinken’s hard work,” Biden told The Post in a 2013 profile on Blinken. “He was the go-to guy. He still is the go-to guy.”

In the Obama administration, Blinken was deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state.

He has been described as having a centrist view of the world, but has also supported interventionist positions. He once broke with Biden and supported military action in Libya, for example. During the Obama administration, he advocated for American action in Syria.

His reputation as a nonideological consensus-builder is also in the mold that Biden is attempting to craft in his administration.

Throughout Biden’s campaign, Blinken played a prominent role and was often by Biden’s side during major decisions or in drafting big speeches.

He co-founded a political strategy firm, WestExec Advisers, along with Michele Flournoy, who served in the Obama administration and is widely believed to be in contention to serve as defense secretary in a Biden administration. She would be the first woman to assume that role.

Blinken had been rumored to be in line for a potential role as the nation’s top diplomat, given his long ties to Biden, even as others hoped they might have a shot.

“Tony Blinken is a superstar and that’s not hyperbole,” Biden told The Post in 2013, as Blinken left to join Obama’s staff.

“The president recognized that after four years with me and stole him,” Biden said, adding that Blinken “could do any job, any job.”