- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2021
The Senate confirmed President Biden’s nominee Antony Blinken as America’s 71st secretary of state on Tuesday, paving the way for him to take charge of a vast U.S. diplomatic corps whose morale suffered during the norm-breaking years of the Trump administration.

Secretary of State Blinken won over several influential Republican lawmakers during his confirmation hearing last week by saying he agreed with some key Trump-era policies — most notably the former administration’s hardened posture toward China.
But Mr. Blinken, who was confirmed by a 78-22 vote, is best known as a favorite of the Democratic foreign policy establishment, as he’s been a long-time confidant of Mr. Biden and was a stalwart advisor of the former Obama administration.

Mr. Blinken served as deputy secretary of state during President Obama’s second term, prior to which he was national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden. The Blinken-Biden ties go even further back, however, with Mr. Blinken having been Senate Committee on Foreign Relations staff director when Mr. Biden chaired the committee during the early 2000s.

Tuesday’s vote came after Mr. Blinken cruised through committee-level confirmation, with the foreign relations committee voting 15-3 to push his nomination to the full Senate. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Rand Paul of Kentucky were the three who voted against confirming Mr. Blinken at the committee level.

But he drew praise from some GOP senators, most notably Lindsey Graham, after an exchange in which Mr. Blinken told the South Carolina Republican that he supported the Trump administration’s last-minute declaration that China has committed genocide against its minority Muslim population of ethnic Uighurs.

Mr. Blinken told lawmakers that “President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” although he also said he was uncomfortable with many of the former administration’s confrontational tactics. “I disagree very much with the way that [Mr. Trump] went about it in a number of areas,” Mr. Blinken said of the China policy. “But the basic principle was the right one.”

“There is no doubt,” he said, that China “poses the most significant challenge of any nation state to the United States.”
But big questions still loom over where the Biden administration will take the policy.

China hawks say it remains unclear whether the administration will embrace President Trump’s hard-edged approach or seek something of a reversal toward the moderate and much softer posture the U.S. embraced when Mr. Biden was vice president. Some view Mr. Biden with particular skepticism because of his son Hunter’s checkered history of business dealings in Beijing.

There are also questions about the future of U.S. policy toward Iran, amid speculation Mr. Biden will seek to quickly rejuvenate the mangled 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

A top Iranian diplomat made headlines Monday by saying the Biden administration must make the first move, likely by lifting sanctions, if it wants to breathe new life into the Obama-era accord that Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2018.

The Islamic republic’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, told NBC News that “it’s up to the U.S. to decide what course of action to take.”

Mr. Blinkin suggested during his confirmation hearing that the issue is being weighed carefully by the Biden team. While he told lawmakers the new president “is committed to the proposition that Iran will not be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Blinken also said the Iran deal had been “succeeding” prior to Mr. Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of it. 

Mr. Blinken will arrive at Foggy Bottom at a moment of high hope among many career diplomats that the State Department could be in for more money and more clout over the next four years as it claws back power lost in recent decades to the Pentagon and National Security Council.

The hope comes after a period of low morale that took a particularly noticeable hold of the department during Mr. Trump’s first year, when the White House repeatedly called for dramatic cuts to the department’s budget, and then-Secretary Rex W. Tillerson, a former Exxon CEO whom Mr. Trump ultimately fired, pushed for a major reorganization that critics said was poorly conceived and sloppily implemented.
Democrats roundly praised Mr. Blinken on Tuesday. A handful of Republican lawmakers also issued statements congratulating him.
“While Mr. Blinken and I have our disagreements on a number of foreign policy issues, I am encouraged by his commitments to consult with Congress in his new role,” said Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the foreign relations committee’s outgoing chairman. “I [am] looking forward to working with him and the rest of the State Department to find solutions to our greatest challenges, including China, Iran, and COVID-19,” 

On the House side, Rep. Michael Michael of Texas also offered guarded praise. 
“While I am still gravely concerned about some of the Biden Administration’s foreign policy agenda, most notably the day one decision to re-enter the deeply flawed Paris Climate Agreement and their determination to re-join the disastrous Iran nuclear deal, Secretary Blinken’s testimony during his confirmation hearing highlighted many areas where we can work together to secure a more peaceful and prosperous world,” said Mr. McCaul, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Republican.

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