Biden names key cabinet picks as Trump flails in bid to block transition

<span>Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Joe Biden, the US president-elect, has shown his determination to speed past Donald Trump’s flailing attempts to block the transition by naming leaders of his foreign policy and national security team.

Related: Antony Blinken: Biden’s secretary of state nominee is sharp break with Trump era

The president-elect put faith in experience on Monday by announcing Tony Blinken as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser and John Kerry as “climate tsar”, each signalling a return to the multilateralism of the Obama era.

Biden also picked Alejandro Mayorkas, who, if confirmed, would become the first Latino and migrant to be homeland security secretary; Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, who would be the first woman in that role; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield for ambassador to the United Nations.

“These individuals are equally as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative,” Biden said. “Their accomplishments in diplomacy are unmatched, but they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet the profound challenges of this new moment with old thinking and unchanged habits – or without diversity of background and perspective.”

Biden looked to send an unequivocal message to a global audience that election wrangling is over and he will take office on 20 January. Trump has refused to concede defeat, spreading false claims of election fraud and suffering legal humiliations in what critics describe as a haplessly executed coup.

The move also reflected Biden’s commitment to greater diversity and to choosing professionals from the foreign policy establishment in preference to business executives and politicians, a hallmark of the Trump administration.

Blinken was Biden’s national security adviser when Biden was vice-president, then deputy secretary of state for two years under Barack Obama. Sullivan was an adviser to Hillary Clinton, took part in talks with Iran before the 2015 nuclear deal, and succeeded Blinken as Biden’s national security adviser.

Kerry, named special presidential envoy for climate, is a former senator and Democratic presidential nominee who was Obama’s second secretary of state and a key architect of the Paris climate accord, which the US quit under Trump.

He tweeted: “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is. I’m proud to partner with the president-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the president’s climate envoy.”

Thomas-Greenfield comes from the diplomatic corps, her career stretching back to the Reagan administration. She was assistant secretary of state for African affairs under Obama but the most senior Black US diplomat was fired by Trump.

Speaking at Washington Post event to promote his new memoir, Obama praised the choice of Blinken.

“He’s outstanding – smart, gracious, a skilled diplomat, well regarded around the world and I know he’s going to do a great job,” Obama said. “You’re seeing a team develop that I have great confidence in.”

But the former president acknowledged that Trump’s wrecking ball approach to foreign policy will take time to repair.

“I think it’s going to be important to recognise that the confidence that our allies had, and the world had, in American leadership is not going to be restored overnight.

“They are going to be greatly relieved and pleased to see people like Tony at various conferences around the world and returning to the traditional leadership role that the US has played. But there is going to be a lingering sense that America’s still divided, some of the shenanigans that are going on right now around the election, that is making the world question how reliable and steady the US may be.”

Melania Trump on Monday welcomes the delivery of the White House Christmas tree, an 18.5ft Fraser fir from Oregon.
Melania Trump on Monday welcomes the delivery of the White House Christmas tree, an 18.5ft Fraser fir from Oregon. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Obama added: “There’s been some damage done that is going to take some time to dig ourselves out of but there’s no doubt that Joe’s got the right people to do it and I’ve every confidence they’ll be able to do it. It just might not happen instantaneously.”

After numerous defeats in court, Trump is stalling the transition, denying Biden access to financial resources and classified briefings while pressuring Republican allies in battleground states to subvert the popular will.

A group of Republicans in Pennsylvania filed an emergency lawsuit seeking to block certification of results in the state, which Biden won by more than 80,000 votes. Monday was the deadline for Pennsylvania counties to certify. Michigan was expected to do the same.

The Trump legal effort is in disarray, bordering on farce. Over the weekend the campaign disavowed lawyer Sidney Powell after she made unhinged accusations of widespread voter fraud, implicating Republicans, without providing evidence.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, who spoke with Powell last week at a disastrous press conference, said in a statement: “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump legal team. She is also not a lawyer for the president in his personal capacity.”

Related: Bernstein names 21 Republican senators who privately expressed contempt for Trump

Earlier, Chris Christie, a Trump ally and former New Jersey governor, told ABC: “Quite frankly, the conduct of the president’s legal team has been a national embarrassment.”

After a long silence, prominent Republicans are seeking to convince Trump it is time to accept the inevitable. Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah have said it is at least time to cooperate with a transition.

Larry Hogan, governor of Maryland and a longtime Trump critic, said: “Now we are beginning to look like we’re a banana republic. It’s time for them to stop the nonsense. It just gets more bizarre every single day and, frankly, I’m embarrassed that more people in the party aren’t speaking up.”

In an open letter, more than 100 Republican national security experts pressured congressional Republicans to demand Trump concede and begin the transition.

“President Trump’s refusal to permit the presidential transition poses significant risks to our national security,” they said, “at a time when the US confronts a global pandemic and faces serious threats from global adversaries, terrorist groups, and other forces.”