US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
The 58-year-old served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Mr Biden.
If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which Donald Trump questioned long-time alliances.
In nominating Mr Blinken, Mr Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Senator Chris Coons.
Ms Rice would have faced significant Republican opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Mr Coons, a member of the Senate foreign relations committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Mr Blinken would bring to the job.
Mr Biden is likely to name his cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Mr Biden focuses on national security that day, Michele Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the defence department.
Jake Sullivan, a long-time adviser to Mr Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Mr Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Mr Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
The secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralised and depleted career workforce at the state department.
Mr Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks.
Many diplomats have chosen to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, Mr Blinken has been a long-time Democratic foreign policy presence.
He has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
In September, Mr Blinken told the Associated Press: “Democracy is in retreat around the world. And unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day.
“Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Mr Blinken served on the national security council (NSC) during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate foreign relations committee when Mr Biden was chair of the panel.
In the early years of the Obama administration, Mr Blinken returned to the NSC and was then vice president Biden’s national security adviser. He then moved to the state department to serve as deputy to secretary of state John Kerry.
Mr Biden also is expected to appoint diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Mr Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America.
He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the treasury department or the department of veterans affairs.
His administration may also be the first to appoint an African American at the top of the defence department, the interior department or the treasury department.
Ron Klain, Mr Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said on Sunday that the Trump administration’s refusal to allow Mr Biden key information on agencies and federal dollars for the transition was taking its toll on planning, including for the cabinet selection process.
Mr Trump’s general services administration has yet to acknowledge a Democrat victory — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
Mr Klain told ABC’s This Week: “We’re not in a position to get background checks on cabinet nominees and so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Mr Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Senators Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have all called on the president to concede defeat.
Former Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a long-time Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome.
He called Mr Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment”.
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration on January 20. Mr Klain said that Mr Biden’s team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
Mr Klain added: “They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honours the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal.”
Mr Biden on Monday named two long-time Capitol Hill aides to his legislative affairs team.
Reema Dodin and Shuwanza Goff will serve as deputy directors of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.