Midterm elections have passed, and the landscape of Congress has changed a fair amount since last year already with the influx of Republicans, and replacement of some of the more entrenched politicians. But even with 2016 still ahead of us, leadership in the United States government is due for some changes long before that hurdle reaches America. Changing leadership can mean many things; it can bring about a fresh perspective on old problems, a new start to difficult relations between governing bodies, and unique strategies previously not tried. But it can also mean new risks, an unknown element in the equation.
There have been a number of new leaders in government over the last few weeks, two of them sitting in the hot seat before Congress for hearings, and one only recently was confirmed to an important office in December. Three major positions are about to be, or have been, filled in Washington D.C., and its worth looking into each, and the challenges and changes that come with them.
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Tony Blinken was confirmed as Deputy Secretary of State in December, ushering him into the second highest position at the Department of State, and bringing out a new leader in international affairs. He comes into the position at a particularly difficult time given tension with Russia over Ukraine, attacks from ISIL and Islamic extremism in the Middle East. As Deputy Secretary he’ll be in charge of helping form policy.
“Under the leadership of Secretary Kerry and now Deputy Secretary Blinken — and thanks to the talented professionals at the State Department — I am confident in America’s ability to continue to succeed abroad,” said President Barack Obama in a statement on Blinken’s confirmation.
Vice President Joe Biden put it somewhat differently. “Tony Blinken is a superstar and that’s not hyperbole,” he said according to The Washington Post. “The president recognized that after four years with me and stole him.”
Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch
Loretta Lynch fielded an onslaught of questions at the end of last month, many of them based on how she might differ from her predecessor, AG Eric Holder, whose policies many Republicans took issue with. In her opening statement, she made particular note of the strained relations between police and communities, her desire for “fostering a new and improved relationship with this committee, the United States Senate, and the entire United States Congress,” as well as her ability to remain legally objective.
Despite some hard questions, Lynch came out of the hearing with a decent impression, especially given her extensive experience and record as a federal prosecutor in New York. A few questions failed to discern her stances given that she hadn’t been briefed, and some were more political barbs than anything else, but her answers were careful and collected, as well as firm on a few cases where she was firmly either for, or against some of President Obama’s stances, further emphasizing her bipartisan likeability. Marijuana would be one example of disagreement, while immigration action would be an example of an area where her legal support would align with Obama’s side.
While Attorney General Holder has accomplished a great deal during his time in office, much of that work was controversial and thought by some to cross certain lines. Lynch could represent a new, more objective leader at the Justice Department.
Defense Secretary Nominee Ashton Carter
Ashton Carter faced a confirmation hearing of his own, with similar caution and question from Republicans. During his confirmation hearing, he promised not to bow under the weight of Obama’s political pressure, in particular on the issue of Guantanamo Bay and prisoner releases. He stated that he would make certain that “the president receives candid professional military advice.”
He also addressed the need to deal with sexual assault in the military and to make new efforts against threats from terrorism. He took a hard line on the defense budget, saying “I cannot suggest support and stability for the defense budget without, at the same time, frankly noting that not every defense dollar is spent as well as it should be.” Carter is looking likely to get the position, and if and when he is confirmed, there’s a number of positions he was quite clear on — one being the need to limit cuts on the defense budget. However, he may face a difficult path, given potential disagreements with the president and pressure from the White House.
Carter’s nomination was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 10, and the broader Senate on February 12. By an overwhelming vote of 93 to 5, he will become the 25th secretary of defense.
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