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Joe Biden’s inner circle: meet the new president’s close-knit team | Joe Biden



At the core of the administration Joe Biden is building is a trusted circle of officials, who are bound together by many years of working together in a close-knit team in the Obama administration, by a shared faith, or, in some cases, by a tie with Biden’s late son, Beau.

It is the very opposite approach to the one taken by Donald Trump, who assembled a sharp-elbowed “team of rivals” – powerful men from different walks of life, who he had never met but thought looked the part. Biden treasures familiarity and nice-guy collegiality, and warned new appointees on Wednesday that if they don’t treat each other with respect, “I will fire you on the spot.”

Tony Blinken

Tony Blinken grew up in France and is bilingual. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

The nominee for secretary of state has worked alongside Biden for nearly two decades. He was his foreign policy adviser in the Senate and as the vice-president’s national security adviser in the Obama administration. Those who know them talk of a mind-meld between them on foreign policy and more. Just as Biden is the anti-Trump, Blinken is the anti-Pompeo: soft-spoken, low-key and collegiate. At his confirmation hearing, he called for American confidence and humility on the world stage, a contrast to Pompeo’s “swagger”. Unlike his predecessor, Blinken is an instinctive multilateralist, having grown up in France and being bilingual.

Jake Sullivan

Jake Sullivan, the youngest national security adviser in 60 years.
Jake Sullivan, the youngest national security adviser in 60 years. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Sullivan, at 43 the youngest national security adviser in 60 years, is also an entirely known quantity for the president. The former Rhodes Scholar who got his master’s degree in international relations at Oxford, succeeded Blinken as national security adviser to Biden in the Obama administration, and was at his side in that job for 18 months.

He is best known for having begun secret talks with Iranian officials that led ultimately to the 2015 nuclear deal, but his broader philosophy, which he has further developed at Yale after leaving the Obama White House, is closely in line with Biden’s: that US strength abroad is built on social cohesion and prosperity in America’s heartland.

Lloyd Austin

Austin has a strong preference for diplomacy over military force.
Austin has a strong preference for diplomacy over military force. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Biden’s nominee for defence secretary has been described as “the silent general” for his record of avoiding the press, but he is reported to have strong policy opinions behind the Pentagon’s closed doors – and those opinions closely align with Biden’s. He has a strong preference for diplomacy over military force, particularly in the Middle East. He adamantly opposed US backing for the Saudi intervention in Yemen, where US Central Command had cooperated with the Houthis to fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Just as importantly, Austin had known Beau Biden in Iraq 10 years ago, when the general was head of US forces there and the younger Biden was a major in the judge advocate general corps. The two attended Catholic services together, and Catholicism is another important area of common private ground with the new president.

Avril Haines

Avril Haines, the new director of national intelligence.
Avril Haines, the new director of national intelligence. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Haines, the new director of national intelligence who was the first Biden pick to be confirmed by the Senate, also has a long history with Biden. She worked for him in his Senate days, and briefed him almost daily when she was deputy CIA director and deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration. The senior staff in that national security council are a principal recruiting pool for top jobs in the Biden administration. As with Blinken, most people who have worked with Haines emphasise her niceness and hard work, but she faces scepticism on the left for her past involvement in the Obama administration, codifying rules and procedures for targeting suspected terrorists for drone strikes, and her role in redacting CIA documents on torture, and overriding an inspector general recommendation for discipling officers who had taken part.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris remained close friends with Beau Biden.
Kamala Harris remained close friends with Beau Biden. Photograph: John Locher/AP

Biden’s choice of Harris as a running mate involved overcoming some wounds inflicted during the primaries, when she tried to stick out from the Democratic crowd with a sharp attack on the frontrunner in the debates, over bussing and racial integration. But the vice-president’s roots with the Biden family run deep. When she was attorney general in California, Beau Biden was doing the same job in Delaware, and they joined forces during the housing crisis and financial crisis, pressing for real banking regulation. They remained close friends until his death in 2015, at the age of 46. “There were periods, when I was taking heat, when Beau and I talked every day, sometimes multiple times a day,” she said in her memoir.

Ron Klain

Klain has much experience in pandemics.
Klain has much experience in pandemics. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Klain has three attributes that made him an obvious choice as chief of staff in the new White House. He knows the president very well, having been Biden’s chief of staff in the early years of the Obama administration, and worked on three of Biden’s election campaigns. He has worked very closely, and seemingly harmoniously, with Jake Sullivan. And he has a lot experience with pandemics, having coordinated the Obama response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015 – highly relevant credentials in a presidency likely to be dominated by coronavirus for its first year.

John Kerry

Kerry, who Biden called ‘one of my closest friends’.
Kerry, who Biden called ‘one of my closest friends’. Photograph: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Kerry and Biden worked together in the Senate for decades in a natural partnership – two senators from the north-east, practising Catholics with Irish roots and deep interest in foreign policy. Kerry was an early endorser of Biden’s third presidential bid, and joined him on the campaign trail. When he made Kerry his climate envoy, Biden said he the former secretary of state was “one of my closest friends”, so that the world would know that he would be talking for the president. Biden added that there is: “No one I trust more.”

Jill Biden

Jill Biden will continue to teach writing when she is in the White House.
Jill Biden will continue to teach writing when she is in the White House. Photograph: Kevin Lowery/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

That is not quite true. The president’s wife for 43 years, Jill Biden, is a close confidante and fierce protector, in the mold of Barack and Michele Obama, and the opposite of the cold and distant White House partnership of Donald and Melania Trump. On the campaign trail, she physically stepped in to protect her husband from protesters, and journalists who got too close during the pandemic. She is stepmother to his surviving son, Hunter, and they have a daughter together, Ashley, born in 1981. Jill Biden will break the mold for first ladies, however, by continuing her career while living in the White House, teaching writing at Northern Virginia community college part time.

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