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Nominees: Fresh Nat'l Security Approach01/20 06:08

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Joe Biden's nominees to lead his national 
security team promised a turnabout from the Trump administration's approach on 
the world stage, saying Tuesday they would keep partisan politics out of 
intelligence agencies, restore an emphasis on cooperating with international 
allies, and push for a stronger American leadership role.

   Antony Blinken, Biden's choice to be secretary of state, pledged to repair 
damage done to the State Department and America's image abroad over the past 
four years while continuing a tougher approach to China. He said he planned to 
restore career officials to prominent positions in the department and strive to 
promote inclusivity in the ranks for the diplomatic corps.

   "American leadership still matters," he said at his confirmation hearing 
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

   Neither Blinken nor Biden's other nominees for national security Cabinet 
posts encountered substantial opposition Tuesday.

   Biden's pick to lead the intelligence community, Avril Haines, promised to 
"speak truth to power" and keep politics out of intelligence agencies to ensure 
their work is trusted. Her remarks implied a departure from the Trump 
administration's record of pressuring intelligence officials to shape their 
analysis to the president's liking.

   "When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics --- 
ever," she told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

   Putting his national security team in place quickly is a high priority for 
Biden, not only because of his hopes for reversing or modifying Trump 
administration policy shifts but also because of diplomatic, military and 
intelligence problems around the world that may create challenges early in his 
tenure.

   Biden's choice to head the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, focused his opening 
statement on an entirely different issue --- his status as a recently retired 
Army general, which would disqualify him from being secretary of defense 
without a congressional waiver of a law that prohibits a military officer from 
holding the job within seven years of leaving the service.

   Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin, who served 41 years 
in the Army, vowed to surround himself with qualified civilians and include 
them in policy decisions. He said he has spent nearly his entire life committed 
to the principle of civilian control over the military.

   "I know that being a member of the president's Cabinet --- a political 
appointee --- requires a different perspective and unique duties from a career 
in uniform," Austin said. "I would not be here, asking for your support, if I 
felt I was unable or unwilling to question people with whom I once served and 
operations I once led, or too afraid to speak my mind to you or to the 
president."

   Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defense, said he 
understands why some have questioned the wisdom of putting a recently retired 
general in charge of the Defense Department.

   "The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control 
of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil," he said.

   The House majority leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer, indicated Tuesday that the full 
House would consider an Austin waiver bill on Thursday.

   Although the committee gave no indication it would oppose Austin's 
nomination, at least one Republican -- Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas --- and one 
Democrat -- Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut --- said they would not vote for 
a waiver. Neither said he would vote against the nomination if he gets the 
waiver. Cotton said he opposes the waiver as a matter of principle, and that he 
regrets having voted in favor of waiving the 7-year waiting period for Jim 
Mattis, the retired Marine general who was Trump's first defense secretary.

   Notably, the issue Austin was quizzed about most often during his hearing 
was sexual assault, which has been a persistent problem that previous Pentagon 
leaders have been unable to solve. He vowed to "fight hard to stamp out sexual 
assault."

   Austin pledged that the Pentagon will "work hand-in-glove" with the State 
Department. Like Blinken, Austin said he views China as the leading 
international issue facing Biden's national security team.

   Blinken, who previously served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama 
administration, said that Iran also would be a primary focus. He said he 
believed that the nuclear deal Trump withdrew from in 2018 should be 
reinvigorated with an eye toward producing "a longer and stronger agreement."

   "Having said that," he said, suggesting that Iran would not be an immediate 
priority, "we're a long way from that."

   On China, Blinken said the Trump administration was right to take a tougher 
stance. But, he said it had approached the matter poorly by alienating U.S. 
allies and not fully standing up for human rights around the world.

   "As we look at China, there is no doubt that it poses the greatest threat of 
any nation state to the United States," he said.

   Blinken said Biden would enter office with a plan to extend the New START 
arms control treaty with Russia that expires in February. The Trump 
administration made a failed last-ditch effort to extend the treaty on terms 
Russia rejected.

   Republicans are expected to broadly support the Austin nomination, as are 
Democrats. Haines and Belkin encountered no significant resistance at their 
confirmation hearings.

   Haines, a former CIA deputy director, would be the first woman to serve as 
director of national intelligence, or DNI --- a role created after the Sept. 
11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

   Also testifying Tuesday at his confirmation hearing was Alejandro Mayorkas, 
Biden's nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He would 
be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency.

   Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, said that he would block a 
procedural move to bypass full committee consideration of the Mayorkas 
nomination. The move means the nomination must go to the full Senate and 
there's little chance he can be confirmed by Wednesday.

   In response, Biden transition spokesman Sean Savett noted that the Senate 
held swift votes to approve DHS secretaries on the first day of administrations 
in 2009 and 2017. "Senator Hawley's threat to disrupt historical practice and 
try to leave this vital position vacant is dangerous, especially in this time 
of overlapping crises when there is not a moment to waste," Savett said.

 
 
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