Senate confirms Antony Blinken as Biden's secretary of state

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Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
·4 min read
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WASHINGTON – The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Antony Blinken to be the nation’s 71st secretary of state Tuesday as lawmakers scrambled to approve President Joe Biden's Cabinet nominees before impeachment proceedings begin against his predecessor.

In a strong show of bipartisan support, the final Senate tally was 78 to 22 and included "yes" votes from several top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Mr. Blinken has a long and distinguished history when it comes to statecraft and foreign relations matters," said Idaho Sen. James Risch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Certainly, he is very qualified for this job."

Blinken will become America’s top diplomat as the world confronts a confluence of threats: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and a great-power competition that increasingly pits the United States against China on trade, technology and other issues.

Antony Blinken testifies during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Jan. 19.
Antony Blinken testifies during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Jan. 19.

"He is the right person to repair and restore our alliances, to rebuild and renew the State Department," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who will soon become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Blinken will be charged with unraveling much of President Donald Trump's foreign policy, which made even some of his most ardent Republican supporters squeamish. Trump alienated U.S. allies, from Canada to Germany, and he embraced some of the world's most brutal dictators, including North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump withdrew from international agreements on arms control, climate change and trade, among other nettlesome global problems.

Blinken was sworn in at the State Department Tuesday afternoon.

"My career has come full circle," he tweeted. "I started at the @StateDept in 1993, and, today, it's the honor of my life to lead the Department's women and men as the 71st Secretary of State."

The 78-to-22 vote in favor of Blinken's nomination is particularly notable given that Trump's two nominees for secretary of state were confirmed by relatively narrow margins. Rex Tillerson, Trump's first secretary of state and the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, was confirmed 55 to 43. Mike Pompeo, a GOP congressman from Kansas, took the helm of the State Department on a vote of 57 to 42.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., emerged as Blinken's most vocal opponent. A libertarian who has long opposed U.S. military intervention, Paul suggested Blinken would lead the country into more messy foreign entanglements.

"Mr. Blinken has been a full-throated advocate of military intervention in the Middle East for 20 years," Paul said Tuesday on the Senate floor, citing Blinken's support for the U.S. military’s role in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

"He's more of the same," Paul said, arguing that Blinken is part of a bipartisan foreign policy establishment that has supported regime change and war.

Other Republicans against Blinken's nomination include Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Iran hawk, and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who like Paul leans libertarian.

Risch, R-Idaho, said he did not agree with Blinken on every foreign policy issue, citing Iran as one major flashpoint. Blinken promised to try to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which Risch and other lawmakers fiercely opposed and which the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018.

But, Risch said, "out of the many many issues that we discussed, there was very little – in fact, no daylight – between us on some of them." For example, Risch said, they see eye-to-eye on Turkey's provocative steps in purchasing a Russian missile defense system, among other actions.

Blinken has worked with Biden on foreign policy issues for nearly two decades. He served as Biden's staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for six years, starting in 2002. When Biden became vice president, Blinken became his national security director – before President Barack Obama elevated him to higher positions, including the No. 2 job at the State Department.

In his confirmation hearing, Blinken promised to rebuild the department, repair frayed alliances and restore America’s global leadership.

“When we are not engaged, when we are not leading, then one of two things is likely to happen,” Blinken said. “Either some other country tries to take our place – but not in a way that is likely to advance our interests and values – or maybe, just as bad, no one does, and then you have chaos. Either way, that does not serve the American people.”

Biden has repeatedly pledged to restore America's reputation overseas.

"Here’s my message to those beyond our borders: America has been tested. And we’ve come out stronger for it," Biden said last week in his inaugural address. "We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Senate confirms Antony Blinken as President Biden's secretary of state