Following Donald Trump’s diplomatic estrangement and isolationist agenda, Joe Biden’s pick to serve as ambassador to the United Nations will enter the role facing twin crises – a growing climate crisis and a still-raging Covid-19 pandemic – following her confirmation in the Senate.
The Senate confirmed Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the nation’s ambassador to the UN by a vote of 78-20 on Tuesday, days before she will assume the rotating leadership of the body’s powerful Security Council in March.
She will be sworn in on Wednesday before traveling to New York to meet with UN secretary general Antonio Guterres.
The career diplomat had previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs from 2013 to 2017 under then-president Barack Obama. She resigned from the administration following Mr Trump’s election and his purge of senior State Department officials.
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She will be the third African American and second African American woman to enter the role.
A dozen cabinet-level appointments have not been confirmed, including Mr Biden’s pick for attorney general Merrick Garland and budget office director Neera Tanden, who could face stiff opposition from Republicans and critical swing-vote Democrats in the Senate.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said the administration is confident it has secured the votes for her confirmation.
“There is one candidate to lead the budget department – her name is Neera Tanden,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
“She has had 44 meetings now with senators of both parties,” Ms Psaki said. “She’s committed to rolling up her sleeves, having those conversations, answering those questions as they come up, reiterating her commitment to working with people across the aisle, and also sharing her experience working with people with different viewpoints.”
Ms Thomas-Greenfield – who grew up in segregated Louisiana – has championed what she calls “gumbo diplomacy” in her 35-year career in foreign service, she said following her nomination in November.
“The challenges we face – a global pandemic, a global economy, a global climate change crisis, mass migration and extreme poverty, social justice – are unrelenting and interconnected, but they’re not unresolvable if America is leading the way,” she said at the time.
She has pledged to defend human rights and repair America’s international reputation in its defence of democracy abroad, she told senators.
Several Republicans scrutinised Ms Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks during a speech on “China-US-Africa Relationships” in 2019.
She said she regrets the appearance, as part of an event sponsored by an educational institute funded by the Chinese Communist Party. It was part of a lecture series at Savannah State University sponsored by the Confucius Institute.
Last month, she called China a “strategic adversary” whose “actions threaten our security, they threaten our values and they threaten our way of life, and they are a threat to their neighbours and they are a threat across the globe”.
Tom Vilsack, who served as agriculture secretary under the Obama administration, will return to the role following his Senate confirmation on Tuesday.
He will enter office with massive food insecurity crisis during the pandemic and its economic fallout, as the president aims to boost food assistance and more than $2 billion in aid to farmers held up by the former president.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us to contain the pandemic, transform America’s food system, create fairer markets for producers, ensure equity and root out systemic barriers, develop new income opportunities with climate smart practices, increase access to healthy and nutritious food, and make historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy in rural America,” he said in a statement after the vote.
Congresswoman Deb Haaland – who would be the first Indigenous woman in a cabinet position as Mr Biden’s pick to lead the Department of the Interior – faced opposition from some Republicans during the first of two hearings ahead of her confirmation over what they called her “divisiveness” in her support for climate justice, Native rights and opposition to fracking.
In her remarks on Tuesday, she said she wants to prioritise clean energy jobs, improving broadband internet in rural areas and bringing attention to the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
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