Before Joe Biden was officially declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, conversations within his foreign policy orbit had intensified around one person: Tony Blinken.
According to multiple sources who spoke to The Daily Beast, Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state during former President Barack Obama’s second term, is being considered for two influential positions in the Biden administration: secretary of state and national security adviser. The talks have occurred more frequently in recent days and weeks as the campaign has neared a tentative close, sources familiar said.
The discussions came as Biden campaign officials insisted that their focus was simply to win the election against President Donald Trump.
“He’s up for two jobs,” said a source with knowledge of the conversations, referring to secretary of state and national security adviser. “He’s going to be one or the other.”
Blinken has been a central fixture in Bidenworld for decades. He was Biden’s chief foreign policy adviser on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where his geopolitical convictions—and profile as a negotiator—were honed. He then followed Biden to the White House in Obama’s first term, serving as the vice president’s national security adviser. As deputy secretary of state, Blinken was a key figure in selling Congress on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
While secretary of state remains perhaps the most sought-after prize for which Blinken is a top contender, two sources familiar told The Daily Beast that he is also being reviewed for national security adviser and that Biden’s decision would depend on whether he wants to keep one of his closest political hands nearby in the White House.
“Because he’s so close to Biden and has been for years, that kind of relationship usually leads first to national security adviser, then maybe you move over to State,” the source familiar said. “The logic seems pretty strong.”
Blinken was the Biden campaign’s premiere foreign policy surrogate and spokesperson during the general election, presenting a Biden agenda as a return to traditionalist multilateralism, particularly on a restoration of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate-change accords. Biden himself has embraced that posture on the trail.
“Not a single one of the big challenges we face, whether it’s climate change or mass migration or technological disruption or pandemic disease, can be met by any one country acting alone, even one as powerful as our own,” Blinken told the “Intelligence Matters” podcast last month, echoing a line from Biden’s July 2019 foreign policy speech.
Blinken did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Biden-Harris transition spokesperson said: “The Biden-Harris Transition team is not making any personnel decisions pre-election.”
Blinken’s expected nomination for either job will come as little surprise to Biden observers. He was long thought to be one of the likeliest picks for secretary of state. Others up for running Foggy Bottom include Obama’s United Nations ambassador and national security adviser Susan Rice, and the relative longshot Sen. Chris Coons, Biden’s fellow Delawarean. Close friend Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is also a dark-horse candidate, one source said.
Rice, for her part, still stands a chance to be secretary of state, provided the Biden team could convince partisan Senate Republicans to not block her nomination, the source familiar with the discussion said. Conversations about senior positions are expected to escalate among Biden aides and advisers this weekend.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) interviewed Blinken in September as part of his investigation into Biden, his son Hunter, and Burisma, the Ukranian energy company. Johnson sought testimony from Blinken and other former top Biden advisers in an attempt to glean more information about whether the Obama administration changed policy toward Ukraine because of Hunter’s Burisma board membership. Johnson’s report was inconclusive and only mentioned Blinken twice in passing.
While Blinken is deeply associated with Biden, whose foreign policy has often been far too hawkish for the progressives with whom he has promised to work closely, he has made a point of reaching out to a rising branch of dovish policy professionals during the election. Some have taken it as an indication that Biden’s expedited agenda for government work abroad may incorporate some left-leaning priorities.
The Biden campaign has been quiet about their transition process since its formation publicly became known. But they have dropped clues, some rather overt, in recent days signaling that they were taking the usual steps associated with a changing of administrations.
Earlier this week, officials launched a website landing page meant to vaguely tease the upcoming appointments. As of Friday afternoon, it featured just one paragraph: “The American people will determine who will serve as the next President of the United States,” the text read. “Votes are still being counted in several states around the country. The crises facing the country are severe—from a pandemic to an economic recession, climate change to racial injustice—and the transition team will continue preparing at full speed so that the Biden-Harris Administration can hit the ground running on Day One.”