Antony Blinken, Janet Yellen, Alejandro Myorkas, Avril Haines, Austin Lloyd start confirmation hearings

Jan. 19 (UPI) — Several Senate committees began confirmation hearings on Tuesday for five nominees for President-elect Joe Biden‘s Cabinet, including new chiefs for the State Department and departments of Treasury, Defense, Intelligence and Homeland Security.

The Senate returned to Capitol Hill Tuesday for the first time since it certified Biden’s electoral victory and the attack by radical supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump.

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Biden’s Cabinet choices include firsts for women and Latinos.

Here are the nominees who began confirmation hearings Tuesday:

Antony Blinken, secretary of state

Blinken served as deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

As a foreign policy expert, Blinken has played a key role in crafting U.S. foreign policy actions in the Middle East.

Blinken, 58, is considered by many a moderate and if confirmed he is expected to play a key role in rejoining the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Blinken told the committee the United States would continue to face global competition from China but has a path to gain strength in its relationship with Beijing.

“We have to start by approaching China from a position of strength, not weakness,” he told the committee. “Our ability to do that is largely within our control.”

He said working with allies and not pulling back from international institutions was one way the United States could increase its influence with China.

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“We are in a position of strength when we stand up for our values when human rights are being abused in Xinjiang or when democracy is being trampled in Hong Kong,” he said. “China is much more assertive in their plan to become the leading force in the world.”

Blinken praised the expansion of the “Global Magnitsky Act,” first introduced in the United States in 2012, which sanctions human rights violators, freezes their assets and bans them from entering the United States.

He said, “Our commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct” and that Biden supports a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Blinken said he supported assistance to governments of Central America to reduce the economic crises causing migrants to leave that were “tied to government reforms.”

Janet Yellen, secretary of the treasury

If confirmed, Yellen would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department.

Yellen was also the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve when she served as chairwoman from 2014 to 2018. She currently serves as an economist at the Brookings Institution.

The pandemic has been particularly brutal to service workers and minorities, Yellen, 74, told the Senate finance committee.

“I will make it a priority on Day 1 to give support to workers and small businesses and putting it into effect as quickly and efficiently as I can…to get through these dark times before the vaccination program allows us to go back to life as we knew it,” Yellen said.

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She said that as part of Biden’s proposed “Build Back Better” campaign, the country needs to “invest in infrastructure, research and development, training and workforce development.”

Yellen also said she’s planning to create a climate change “hub” at the Treasury Department.

Although the corporate tax cuts in 2017 did “improve competitiveness of American businesses, it’s very important that corporations and individuals pay their fair share,” Yellen said.

She said as far as global corporate taxation, the Biden administration would seek to “avoid a race to the bottom.” Under Biden, the Treasury Department would “eventually repeal parts of” Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cut.

Lloyd Austin III, secretary of defense

A retired four-star general, Austin would be the first Black American to serve as defense secretary.

Austin was a commander in Iraq and retired from the U.S. Army in 2016 as chief of U.S. Central Command. Beginning in 2014, he directed the U.S. response to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Austin, 67, would need a waiver for confirmation, as he has only been away from active duty for four years. Federal law requires the Pentagon chief to have been a civilian for at least seven years.

Austin said the mission of his role, if confirmed, would be to better integrate civilian input into the actions of the U.S. military.

“In war and peace, I implemented the policies of civilians elected and appointed over me,” Austin said. “I know that being a member of the president’s Cabinet, a political appointee, requires a different perspective, with unique duties from a career in uniform.”

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Austin said he intended to make changes to “ensure that civilian input is integrated at every level of the process.” He also said the Pentagon would work “hand in glove supporting our diplomats.”

Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of homeland security

A Cuban American, Mayorkas, 61, is the first Latinx person nominated for the DHS post.

A former U.S. Attorney, Mayorkas served as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during the Obama administration and helped craft the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The department has seen leadership turmoil under the Trump administration with six chiefs in four years.

Mayorkas was grilled about a 2013 inspector general report that he intervened on behalf of politically connected businesses attempting to fast-track EB-5 applications, which let foreign nationals get the visas if they invested $1 million in businesses or projects that create U.S. jobs for U.S. citizens.

“It is my job to become involved with the problems in an agency and to fix them,” Mayorkas told the committee. “I learned that individuals in the EB-5 program may not have visibility of all that I do as a leader,” Mayorkas said, pointing out that he worked with “dozens and dozens” of cases.

On immigration, Mayorkas called Trump’s wall along the Mexico border, which Biden has said he will defund, a “monolithic answer to the varied and diverse challenge [of immigration].”

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Mayorkas said immigrants seeking asylum, including those in caravans from Central America, deserve an administration that follows asylum law.

If refugees are qualified to remain in the United States, “then we will apply the law accordingly,” he said. “If they do not qualify to remain in the United States, then they won’t.”

Looking toward the future, Mayorkas said the Department Homeland Security would work to prevent and detect fraudulent COVID-19 medical supplies and that the department would tackle cybersecurity threats.

Mayorkas also addressed investigations of domestic extremism in White supremacy movements.

“I look forward to playing a critical role in empowering the office of intelligence and analysis in an apolitical, nonpartisan way to do its job and tackle the threat of domestic extremism,” Mayorkas said.

Avril Haines, director of national intelligence

If she’s confirmed, Haines would be the first woman to hold the nation’s top intelligence post.

Haines, 51, was deputy CIA director and deputy national security adviser for two years during the Obama administration.

After the recently discovered Russia-originated cyberattack targeting U.S. government agencies, the intelligence community is expected to undergo a renewed focus under Haines, if she’s confirmed.

Haines said the greatest challenge of the director of national intelligence will be building trust with the American people.

“To be effective, the [director] must never shy away from speaking truth to power even, and especially when it would be inconvenient or difficult. When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics, ever,” she said.

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Haines also addressed China’s role as a global competitor with the United States.

“China is adversarial on some issues and in others we try to cooperate with them,” Haines said. “But when it comes to global espionage…they are an adversary.”

Haines also said she’d share with Congress an unclassified report on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and would take a look at the QAnon conspiracy in the United States.

Meet President-elect Joe Biden’s top adviser picks

Samantha Power

USAID Chief. Samantha Power (R), who served as President Barack Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is nominated to head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Pool Photo by Anthony Behar/UPI | License Photo

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