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Biden widens search for defense secretary under pressure from his party

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ADD AUSTIN TO THE LIST: The short list for Joe Biden’s defense secretary is getting longer. Once described as a shoo-in, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy is facing new competition from at least three other candidates.

The latest potential candidate is retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, former head of the U.S. Central Command, who, if selected, would need a congressional waiver from the law that requires a seven-year waiting period for retired officers to serve as the civilian leader of the Pentagon. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis easily won a waiver in 2017.

Other candidates in the mix include Jeh Johnson, former secretary of homeland security; Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, former deputy secretary of energy; and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a combat veteran who was a vocal supporter of Biden during the election.

FLOURNOY STILL A TOP CANDIDATE: Flournoy’s corporate ties have drawn fire from progressive Democrats. She serves on the boards of Booz Allen Hamilton and Amida Technology Solutions and is the chief executive officer of WestExec Advisor, a high-powered Washington consulting firm founded in 2017 by Tony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state.

But her pro-war policies have also been questioned by Democrats. “Flournoy supported the war in Iraq & Libya, criticized Obama on Syria, and helped craft the surge in Afghanistan,” tweeted California Rep. Ro Khanna last week. “I want to support the President’s picks. But will Flournoy now commit to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan & a ban on arms sales to the Saudis to end the Yemen war?”

‘SO FAR IT’S NOT GOOD’: Biden is also under pressure to appoint more blacks to his Cabinet. Last week in an interview, South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who many credit with rescuing Biden’s flagging primary campaign, expressed disappointment that so far only one Biden nominee, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is black.

“From all I hear, black people have been given fair consideration,” Clyburn told Juan Williams, a columnist for the Hill. “But there is only one black woman so far. I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” he added. “But so far, it’s not good.”

Both Austin and Johnson are black.

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HAPPENING TODAY: President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will receive their first Presidential Daily Briefing, which presumably will include the latest intelligence about Iran’s threatened retaliation for the assassination Friday of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

“Iran will surely respond to the martyrdom of our scientist at the proper time,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday during a televised Cabinet meeting.

“Fakhrizadeh was at the heart of the Iranian nuclear program and has been for years, not only the brains but also the passion behind it. So his assassination is really a significant event, not unlike a year ago when we took out Soleimani,” said former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Adm. Mike Mullen on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday. “It’s a real, real center of gravity, if you will, for that program. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other nuclear scientists or that Iran can’t continue on.”

“I’m hopeful that President-elect Biden can actually reach in and calm the waters, but I think this heightens tension significantly,” Mullen said.

McRAVEN: ‘THEY HAVE TO RETALIATE’: “Iran either suspects or knows that Israel was responsible for this attack. And then, of course, kind of by association, they’re going to assume that we either collaborated with it or at a minimum were witting of the Israeli’s actions,” said retired Adm. William McRaven on ABC Sunday.

“The Iranians are going to be in a position where they have to retaliate. I don’t see any way around it. They’re going to have to save face. And so now the issue becomes, what does that retaliation look like?” said McRaven, the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. “The Iranians don’t want to war with us. We don’t want to go to war with Iran. So everybody needs to do the best they can to kind of lower the temperature and try not to get this into an escalation mode.”

NO VOTES WERE SWITCHED: The lifelong Republican fired by President Trump for challenging his assertions of election fraud told the CBS program 60 Minutes that the American people should have 100% confidence in their vote.

“We can go on and on with all the farcical claims that — alleging — interference in the 2020 election, but the proof is in the ballots. The recounts are consistent with the initial count, and to me, that’s further evidence, that’s confirmation that the systems used in the 2020 election performed as expected,” Chris Krebs, who was put in charge of the agency handling election security by Trump two years ago, told CBS’s Scott Pelley.

“Votes were cast in Georgia, for instance, again, on paper. They were counted by a machine. They were subsequently recounted by hand. The outcomes of that count were consistent. If there was an algorithm that was flipping votes or changing votes, it didn’t work. I think the more likely explanation, though, is that there is no algorithm, that the systems performed as intended,” Krebs said. “There is no foreign power that is flipping votes. There’s no domestic actor flipping votes. I did it right. We did it right. This was a secure election.”

TRUMP INCENSED, INSISTENT HE WON: Immediately after the broadcast, Trump fired back on Twitter. “@60Minutes never asked us for a comment about their ridiculous, one sided story on election security, which is an international joke,” he tweeted. “Our 2020 Election, from poorly rated Dominion to a Country FLOODED with unaccounted for Mail-In ballots, was probably our least secure EVER!”

In his first interview since Biden was declared the winner, Trump told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo that ballots were trucked in for Biden, while his were dumped. “You know, they threw away ballots. They threw away many Trump ballots. That’s the easiest way they could cheat. But we got 74 million votes. He didn’t get anywhere close to 80 million votes,” Trump said.

“This election was over. And then they did dumps. They call them dumps, big, massive dumps, in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and all over,” Trump said. “And they did these massive dumps of votes. And, all of a sudden, I went from winning by a lot to losing by a little.”

Asked by Bartiromo if he could prove that, Trump replied, “I’m going to use 125% of my energy to do it,” but he complained the legal system is rigged against him, too. “You need a judge that’s willing to hear a case. You need a Supreme Court that’s willing to make a real big decision,” he said,

“It’s not like you’re going to change my mind. In other words, my mind will not change in six months.”

AFGHANISTAN STUDY GROUP: President Trump’s order to reduce U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is drawing a warning from the Afghanistan Study Group, which includes former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

“Americans generally agree that it is time to end this war. But withdrawing U.S. troops irresponsibly would likely lead to a new civil war, inviting the reconstitution of anti-U.S. terrorist groups and providing them with a narrative of victory against the U.S. superpower,” writes Dunford in an op-ed, along with co-chairs Kelly Ayotte, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, and Nancy Lindborg, former president and CEO of the U.S. Institute of Peace

“An abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops, as is now being contemplated by the Trump administration, would undermine the fragile but potentially transformational peace process. It would embolden the Taliban, destabilize the Kabul government and allow terrorist groups to reconsolidate,” they write. “A civil war could result, provoking a wider regional conflict and an inevitable humanitarian and migration crisis.”

PLAYING POLITICS? House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith is accusing the Air Force of politicizing the announcement of their preferred locations for Air National Guard C-130J main operating bases.

“The Air Force has traditionally avoided making basing announcements near an election so as not to be accused of playing politics with force structure decisions. In this instance, the timing and decision to include Savannah, Ga. in the announcement, when Georgia is focused on Senate runoff elections, raises questions about the Secretary’s motives,” Smith said in a statement last week. “The Air Force did not need to make this decision now – plain and simple – and should delay moving forward with these basing actions until conference negotiations have concluded and the decision is not at risk of being politicized.”

BIDEN’S FIRST SLIP-UP: According to a pool report, Biden slipped yesterday while playing with his dog, Major. What was first reported as a twisted ankle turned out to be a fractured foot.

“Initial X-rays did not show any obvious fracture, but his clinical exam warranted more detailed imaging,” said Dr. Kevin O’Connor, director, executive medicine, GW Medical Faculty Associates. “Follow-up CT scan confirmed hairline (small) fractures of President-elect Biden’s lateral and intermediate cuneiform bones, which are in the mid-foot. It is anticipated that he will likely require a walking boot for several weeks.”

ACCIDENTAL DEATH: The Pentagon says Air Force Capt. Kelliann Leli, 30, of Parlin, New Jersey, died Nov. 27 in a “non-combat related vehicle incident” at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

Leli, a medical doctor, was supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan. She was assigned to the 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California.

The Rundown

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Washington Examiner: Opinion: Iran threatens Biden with nuclear buildup over Israel assassination

Washington Examiner: 5 takeaways from Israel’s assassination of Iran’s top nuclear weapons scientist

AP: Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Troops In Rare Visit To Somalia Carrier Nimitz Returns to Gulf as Iran Makes Threats

New York Times: Iran Struggles For a Response To Bold Strikes

Washington Post: Turkey’s military campaign beyond its borders is powered by homemade armed drones

Task & Purpose: The Marine Corps Is On The Hunt For A Kamikaze Drone Swarm To Back Up Grunts On The Battlefield

Washington Post: The United States has closed at least 10 bases around Afghanistan. But drawdown details remain murky.

The Daily Beast: How Russian Disinformation Protects Violent Wagner Group Mercenaries in Africa

New York Times: Afghan Leader Hampers Peace Talks, Officials Say

South China Morning Post: Joe Biden Presidency Could Reopen A Window Of Opportunity For China: Analysts

Wall Street Journal: Biden’s Goodwill Sparks Debate Among NATO Allies

AP: Biden’s Win Means Some Guantanamo Prisoners May Be Released

New York Times: How Did the North Korean Defector Cross the Border? Loose Screws

Washington Times: ‘Fort Trump’ In Poland Dismissed As Military Goal Why India Is So Close To Russia’s Navy

Washington Post: Opinion: An abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan undermines the fragile peace



7 a.m. — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg briefs reporters ahead of the meeting of the NATO foreign ministers, taking place via teleconference Dec. 1-2.

10:30 a.m. — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace webinar: “Taking Stock: Five Years of Russia’s Intervention in Syria,” with Jomana Qaddour, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council; Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center; Frances Brown, senior fellow in the CEIP Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program; and Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

10:30 a.m. — Middle East Institute Defense Leadership series webinar with U.K. Maj. Gen. Kevin Copsey, deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve.

11:30 a.m. — National Defense Industrial Association virtual Interservice, Industry, Training, Simulation and Education Conference, with Deputy Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Alan Shaffer; Nazzic Keene CEO of the Science Applications International Corporation; and Army Gen. John Murray, commanding general of the Army Futures Command.

4 p.m. — Woodrow Wilson Center History and Public Policy Program virtual book discussion on What Remains: Bringing America’s Missing Home from the Vietnam War, focusing on advances in forensic sciences, with author Sarah Wagner, associate professor of anthropology at George Washington University.


All Day — NATO foreign ministers meet for two days via secure teleconference. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will brief reporters both days online.

8 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast: “The Outlook for North Korea’s Economy Post-Pandemic,” with former CIA Senior Analyst Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow at CSIS.

9 a.m. — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace virtual discussion: “U.S.-China Relations Under Biden: A Lookahead,” with Paul Haenle, chair at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center and former director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia Affairs at the National Security Council; Xie Tao, political science professor and dean of the Beijing Foreign Studies University’s School of International Relations and Diplomacy; and Evan Feigenbaum, CEIP vice president for studies.

9 a.m. — United States Institute of Peace virtual discussion: “Contested Waters: Flashpoints for Conflict in Asia,” with David Michel, senior research fellow at the Center for Climate and Security; Abdul Aijaz, doctoral candidate at Indiana University Bloomington; Amit Ranjan, research fellow at the National University of Singapore Institute of South Asian Studies; Z Nang Raw, policy and strategy director at the Nyein Foundation; Jumaina Siddiqui, USIP senior program officer for South Asia; and Tegan Blaine, USIP senior adviser on environment and conflict.

12 p.m. — Aspen Cyber Summit will take place virtually over three days, Dec. 1-3., featuring daily keynote conversations as well as short talks and panel discussions.

12:30 p.m. — Arms Control Association annual meeting with the theme “Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament into the Next Decade, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; and U.N. Undersecretary for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu.

1 p.m. — U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Space Summit with Air Force Secretary Barbara Bennett and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond.

1:30 p.m. Pentagon Auditorium — Defense Department holds an assistant secretaries of defense town hall briefing. Livestream at

2 p.m. — Intelligence National Security Alliance virtual discussion: “Future of the National Security Cyber Workforce,” with former National Security Agency Deputy Director Chris Inglis, commissioner of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission; Air Force Brig. Gen. David Gaedecke, vice commander of Air Forces Cyber; Tonya Ugoretz, deputy assistant director for FBI Cyber Readiness, Outreach and Intelligence Branch; Teresa Shea, vice president of cyber offense and defense experts at Raytheon Intelligence and Space; and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jim Keffer, cyber director at Lockheed Martin Government Affairs.

3 p.m. — Atlantic Council webinar on a new report, “The Five Revolutions: Examining Defense Innovation in the Indo-Pacific Region,” with former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright, board director of the Atlantic Council; Alan Pellegrini, CEO of Thales North America; Jon Grevatt, associate director of Janes; Rukmani Gupta, senior military capabilities analyst at Janes; and Tate Nurkin, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

4 p.m. — Air Force Association “Airmen in the Fight,” webinar with Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force, as part of the Airmen in the Fight series.


8 a.m. — Atlantic Council virtual forum with current and former U.S. and South Korean officials on “issues facing the bilateral security alliance and economic partnership,” with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan Marc Knapper.

9:15 a.m. G50, Dirksen — Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness, with Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger.

10:30 a.m. — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group conversation with Adm. Craig Faller, commander, U.S. Southern Command.

11 a.m. — Brookings Institution webcast: “A conversation with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.”

12 p.m. — Association of the U.S. Army “Noon Report” webinar on Army National Guard operations, with Command Sgt. Maj. John Sampa, the senior enlisted leader of the Army National Guard.


12 p.m. — Hudson Institute virtual discussion: “Competing with Great Powers at the ‘Speed of Relevance,” with Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment.

12 p.m. — R Street Institute and National Taxpayers Union webinar “Pentagon Purse Strings Episode 1: What is a Contingency? Exploring the OCO Account and Reform in the 117th Congress,” with Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.; Andrew Lautz, National Taxpayers Union, Jonathan Bydlak, R Street Institute; and Wendy Jordan, senior policy analyst, Taxpayers for Common Sense.

1 p.m. Rayburn 2118 & Cisco Webex — House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing: “Review of the Findings and Recommendations of the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety,” with retired Army Gen. Richard Cody, chairman, National Commission on Military Aviation Safety; and Richard Healing, vice chairman, National Commission on Military Aviation Safety.

2 p.m. — Brookings Institution webcast: “The Future of U.S. Alliances in the Indo-Pacific,” with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

5 p.m. — National Security Institute at George Mason University “NatSec Nightcap” conversation: “Advancing Diplomacy Aboard, a Deep Dive into U.S. Foreign Policy,” with Elliott Abrams, special representative for Iran and Venezuela; and Jamil Jaffer, founder and executive director, National Security Institute.


9 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast with former CIA Director John Brennan on the top national security priorities for a new Biden administration.

1:30 p.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast: “Reflecting America’s Diversity in its Military,” with Army Maj. Gen. Tammy Smith; retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, former NASA administrator; and Alice Hunt Friend, senior fellow in the CSIS International Security Program.

3 p.m. — Woodrow Wilson Center Kissinger Institute on China and the United States virtual book discussion on “Where Great Powers Meet,” focusing on the rivalry between the United States and China in Southeast Asia, with author David Shambaugh, director of the George Washington University China Policy Program; Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute; and J. Stapleton Roy, director emeritus of the Kissinger Institute.

3 p.m. — Hudson Institute webinar: “Diplomacy, Deterrence, and Disruption: Navigating North Korea Policy in 2021,” with Jihwan Hwang, associate professor at the University of Seoul; Andrea Mihailescu, fellow in residence at Pepperdine University; Won Gon Park, professor of international studies at Handong Global University; Brad Roberts, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Center for Global Security Research; and Patrick Cronin, senior fellow at Hudson.



Chris Krebs, fired director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

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Progressives don’t love Joe Biden’s foreign policy — but there’s a lot to like

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Progressives don’t love Joe Biden’s foreign policy — but there’s a lot to like

Nobody expects President-elect Joe Biden’s centrist foreign policy views to shift radically once he’s in office. Not after almost five decades in Washington, most of which have been spent with international affairs as his bailiwick. But for progressives grumbling about some of Biden’s Cabinet picks, I offer good news: This administration can still deliver on some of your biggest foreign policy goals.

Much of the focus since the election has been on whom Biden will install to run the federal bureaucracy. That’s fair, given the challenge of rebooting the nation’s operating system after four years of President Donald Trump and his haphazard staffing. The problem is that some of Biden’s picks come with baggage of their own.

Antony Blinken, the president-elect’s choice to become secretary of state, and Michèle Flournoy, reportedly the lead contender to run the Pentagon, are under increasing scrutiny for their post-government work. That includes founding WestExec, their consulting firm, whose client list is secret and which has diligently kept its staff from being called “lobbyists.” Flournoy’s close ties with defense contractors are also getting major pushback.

A look at some of the main foreign policy priorities for the progressive movement shows some major opportunities on the horizon.

Meanwhile, one of Biden’s top choices for CIA chief, former Deputy Director Michael Morell, has been accused of defending the Bush-era torture program. He could face opposition from Senate Democrats if nominated. Avril Haines — who has been tapped to become director of national intelligence — has also been criticized for her role in redacting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture and supporting current CIA Director Gina Haspel’s nomination. (Haines worked at WestExec, too, by the by.)

All of that having been said, it’s a mistake to focus solely on the people at the top. For all the centrists being put in place, a look at some of the main foreign policy priorities for the progressive movement shows some major opportunities on the horizon:

Considering domestic and international economics in foreign policy. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both argued during their presidential runs that the U.S. needs to develop a foreign policy that keeps the economic well-being of all Americans in mind. Heather Hurlburt, a policy researcher with New America, wrote in 2018 that “ensuring the basic health and sustainability of the U.S. economy, addressing inequality, and attacking absolute poverty both at home and abroad” should be central to a progressive foreign policy.

Jake Sullivan’s pending appointment as national security adviser should be seen as a promising development. Sullivan, who praised Sanders’ focus on crony capitalism and corruption abroad in 2018, recently worked with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on a series of reports examining how to make foreign policy work for America’s middle class.

Putting climate change front and center. Former Secretary of State John Kerry is on track to be appointed to a Cabinet-level role focused on international climate efforts, a decision that lends weight to Biden’s ambitious climate plans. As fellow MSNBC columnist Emily Atkin noted, though, progressives need to be ready to be critical of Kerry and Biden, leaning on them to follow through with action instead of just rhetoric.

Accepting the limits of U.S. military power. Biden’s not exactly what anyone would call a peacenik, but after going on 20 years of constant war, he literally can’t afford to deploy forces overseas like his predecessors. Trump, for all his misguided logic, wanted to roll back some of the U.S.’s overseas military commitments that have left the armed services stretched thin. Biden should at least consider the same, with an acknowledgment that a military presence doesn’t always guarantee success.

Defending democracy without going on the offense. Both neoconservatives and progressives believe the U.S. should advocate for democracy abroad. The difference is that the former believes the military needs to foster new democracies, while the latter is typically more interested in shoring up those that already exist. And as we head into 2021, democracies need help to keep from becoming nationalist oligarchies. We’ve already seen this backslide happen in Hungary and Turkey. Halting — and, ideally, helping reverse — these transformations should be a priority for the Biden administration.

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Rethinking U.S. alliances. Biden campaigned on restoring some of America’s most crucial alliances after years of Trumpian mishandling. He now has an opportunity to determine what “crucial” means — especially when it comes to ignoring human rights abuses from allies like Saudi Arabia. While the Trump administration turned a mostly blind eye to Riyadh’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden’s team can afford to be a bit pickier about who gets called a friend.

Ending U.S. support for the war in Yemen. On a similar note, in the short term, progressives can count on Biden and his Cabinet to call off American support for the six-year war in Yemen. Both houses of Congress passed a resolution in 2019 that would constrain U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led campaign, which has at times targeted civilian facilities and prevented humanitarian aid shipments; Trump vetoed the legislation. A new version is sure to pass in the next session of Congress, and Biden will sign it.

If progressives want not just to have a seat at the table but also to sit at its head, now is the time to lay their own groundwork.

There will undoubtedly be foreign policy fights between the left wing of the Democratic Party and the liberal internationalists who have dominated the Democratic establishment since the end of the Cold War. No matter who winds up as defense secretary, slashing military spending will be a major lift. Through a combination of Trump’s demands and congressional inertia, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act is likely to appropriate over $740 billion for the current fiscal year to the Defense Department and other national security projects. Getting Flournoy to trim that number could be difficult.

The same goes for U.S. policy toward Israel, still one of the deepest divides among Democrats. Relatedly, Biden and his team are facing what could be an early test in the Middle East. Iran’s top nuclear scientist was killed over the weekend in an assassination that showed the hallmarks of an Israeli operation. How Biden threads the needle of discouraging Iran’s nuclear program, avoiding war and supporting Israel without encouraging international lawbreaking is likely to be a preview of the rest of his term.

Biden is prioritizing staffers who have years of experience in foreign affairs. If progressives want not just to have a seat at the table but also to sit at its head, now is the time to lay their own groundwork. The Biden administration needs new foreign policy hands to revitalize the ranks, from top to bottom. Now is the time to seed lower-level staffers who eventually guide the U.S. in the next decade and beyond, building on the work that will be done over the next four years.

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Hayes Brown is a writer and editor for MSNBC Daily, where he helps frame the news of the day for readers. He was previously at BuzzFeed News and holds a degree in international relations from Michigan State University.

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Biden’s Plan for Seniors Is Not Just a Plan for Seniors

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Biden’s Plan for Seniors Is Not Just a Plan for Seniors

Social Security credits would most likely have greater impact, said Richard Johnson, an economist who directs the Urban Institute Program on Retirement Policy. One drawback, however, is that “it doesn’t help caregivers until they begin collecting Social Security,” he said. “The tax credit could provide immediate help.”

Of course, the political odds of realizing all these ideas, or any of them, remain highly uncertain, even if the Senate acquires a slender Democratic majority. “The question will be, ‘Do we have the political will to make it happen?’” Ms. Whiting said. Some Medicaid changes will also require agreement from state governments.

The plan does not delve into details about how the administration would carry out all these policies, and the Biden transition team did not make a policy adviser available to discuss the president-elect’s goals and strategies. But some aspects of the plan — efforts to pass a caregiver tax credit, for instance — have previously drawn congressional sponsors from both parties.

“There’s growing recognition of the essential help provided by family caregivers, and an emerging consensus among both Democrats and Republicans that they need more support,” Dr. Johnson said. “So the time might be right to enact meaningful federal legislation.”

Supporters of the plan see Mr. Biden as a president with an unusually personal understanding of caregiving. He has been a single father and a caregiver both to injured children and to a grown son with terminal cancer. In announcing his caregiving plan, he also mentioned caring for his parents, when they were hospice patients, in his home.

Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris was the principal sponsor of the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights last year. “They’re the right people to lead the conversation,” Ms. Whiting said.

But as veterans of the effort to promote a more expansive federal approach to caregiving, advocates like Ms. Goss Graves have also developed a well-honed realism. “Things don’t happen on their own,” she said. “I’d feel hopeful, but I’d also be preparing to get to work.”

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Should Joe Biden’s Jewish picks raise concerns?

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Should Joe Biden’s Jewish picks raise concerns?

The different reactions of American and Israeli Jews to US President-elect Joe Biden’s early appointment of four Jews to top positions in his administration provide a telling peek into the different ways the two communities view reality.

In this sense, the


of Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Janet Yellen as secretary of the Treasury, Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of Homeland Security, and Ron Klain as Biden’s chief of staff are a Rorschach test of sorts.

Here is one reaction from American Jewry: “We are proud of the fact that this slate of nominees includes multiple Jewish Americans and others whose family history represents the rich tapestry of American society,” the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) said in a statement. “Their understanding of our past will help build a stronger future.”

That response reflects pride that Jews have risen high in the government ranks, and that the new appointees’ understanding of Jewish values will infuse policy.

Contrast that with a tweet from Makor Rishon editor-in-chief Hagai Segal: “There is no need to attribute too much importance to the appointment of Jews in Biden’s administration. There are also a lot of Jews in J Street,” Segal wrote, in reference to the left-wing lobby that has played a leading role in legitimizing and mainstreaming harsh criticism of Israeli policies by both elected and nonelected US officials.

Obviously, Segal, who edits a newspaper with a strong right-wing editorial tilt, does not represent all Israelis, any more than the JDCA reflects the entirety of opinion of American Jewry.

But their different takes on the appointment of Jews to the Biden cabinet, and what those appointments mean, reflect different ways Israeli and American Jews – as a result of their different experiences and different concerns – view the world.

American Jews, said Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington from 2009-2013, look at these appointments and feel pride. Israeli Jews, on the other hand, look at them and wonder whether the appointees’ religion will make them more sympathetic to Israel’s concerns.

“American Jews look at these appointments and say, ‘This is what we can achieve in this country, what a country,’” Oren said. “Israelis say they are going to understand us better, because they are Jewish.”

In addition to the pride that US Jews feel when their coreligionists rise to positions of great authority, there are two other emotions in their baggage that Israeli Jews don’t carry in this context: shame and insecurity.

“American Jews first of all feel pride,” Oren stressed. “But they could also feel shame.”

He said that some liberal American Jews looking at US President Donald Trump’s senior advisers Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller often feel shame because these men are Jewish, advocating policies – for instance, on immigration – that they are adamantly against.

And the other emotion triggered by high-level Jewish appointees among American Jewry is often insecurity.

“Because if the Jew in high office pursues policies that are highly controversial, or if that individual fails in office, that reflects on the entire community,” Oren said. Many in the Jewish community, he quipped, look at a non-Jewish official embroiled in controversy and say to themselves, “Thank God he is not Jewish.”

If that degree of insecurity reflects a shtetl mentality, American Jews are not the only ones to have it. Danny Ayalon, who was the ambassador to the US from 2002-2006, during the George W. Bush years, said that mentality also exists among Israelis when they look at Jews abroad in high places.

“I think Jews all over the world are conditioned, because of our 2,000 years of exile and all the tribulations, to always look and see who we can talk to, who we can do business with, whether he is a landsman, a member of the tribe. When you were the few against the many, it was always comforting knowing who you were dealing with, and whether he was your brother.”

Even though today Israelis are “strong, independent and proud,” Ayalon said “we are still in that sense – in that form of conduct – acting a little like we did in the shtetl: ‘Is the official Jewish or not? Is the landowner [paritz] a Jew?”

And what if he is? What if the landowner is a Jew? What if the senior State Department or Pentagon official is a Jew? Does it make a difference? Does it help Israel in any way?

Ayalon thinks not, and said that in his years as ambassador and foreign policy adviser to prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, the fact that there were Jews in prominent roles in the Clinton and Bush administrations did not make his job any easier. In fact, he recalls a time during the controversy over Israel’s selling Harpy drones to China in 2004 – something that the Bush administration wanted to stop – that top Pentagon officials Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz “gave me a dressing down and came down on me like a ton of bricks.”

Ayalon said that his experience over the years taught him that US Jewish officials are “first Americans, and then Jews,” and that this goes to the core of their identity.

Ayalon’s diplomatic career crossed paths with two Jewish US ambassadors to Israel – Martin Indyk and Dan Kurtzer – who were highly critical of the government policies that Ayalon was representing at the time.

“Certainly we did not get any favoritism because of the ethnicity or religion of US officials,” Ayalon said diplomatically. “If anything, it was quite the contrary.”

Ayalon said that “it is not inconceivable” that Jewish officials may feel more free in criticizing Israel “because they don’t risk being called antisemitic.”

Asked point blank if Israel is better or worse off having Jews in top positions affecting Israel in the US, Ayalon said “it depends on the person.” But, he added, he “never, ever, ever” felt that he was on easier ground if the official he was dealing with in Washington happened to be a Jew.

Former ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said that the only advantage in having a Jewish official sit across the table is that “it may enable small talk and the ability to connect better, but regarding the substance of policy it does not mean anything.”


said that while it is understandable that Jews may feel pride when another Jew rises high in any government around the world, “we can’t then come and say that as a result of this we have an insurance policy [regarding policy on Israel], and that everything will be OK. It is not. It may be a source of pride, but we can’t go on the assumption that there is a guarantee that policy issues will go in our direction.”

In fact, he warned, sometimes the opposite is true. “We saw in the past that there were Jews whose policies toward Israel were problematic, and whose being Jewish allowed them to be more critical.”

The example he gave was former president Barack Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, someone who Israeli officials who worked with him said “made our lives miserable.”

Oren advised Israelis not to get excited by the appointment of Jews to top foreign policy and national security positions in the Biden administration. “I think what you have to say is that these people are going to be loyal to the administration’s policies, and that their Jewish identity may make them a little bit more sensitive to our concerns – but at the end of the day they are going to follow policy.”

Oren said that to think otherwise would be a mistake that would only lead to disappointment.

“We can take pride that they are Jewish and have reached high office,” he said. “That’s wonderful, and it says a lot about America and about American Jews that such a high percentage of these officials are Jewish. But don’t think it’s going to affect policy [toward Israel]. And I can think of several examples of people who bent over backward to prove that they were going to be dispassionate about our issues.”

The glaring example he cited was Henry Kissinger, America’s first Jewish secretary of state. Oren pointed out that Kissinger – who infamously said it would be best if Israel “got bloodied” during the Yom Kippur War – opposed an arms airlift during the darkest days of the war, and that it was president Richard Nixon who ordered it.

Former Foreign Ministry directory-general Dore Gold, who also served during his career as ambassador to the UN and foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, took a position a bit more forgiving relative to Kissinger, saying that the former secretary of state believed “he was serving America’s and Israel’s interests in the actions he took by turning the Yom Kippur War into a springboard for Egyptian-Israeli negotiations, which didn’t exist before.”

Regarding whether Jewish officials in positions touching on Israel are good or bad for the Jewish state, Gold said, “I don’t distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish American officials. They reflect the interests of the United States, period. However, I would expect that if Israel is dealing with an existential issue, in which our population is threatened, it might matter.”

Asked whether this really held up considering that so many Jews worked in the Obama administration, which entered the nuclear agreement with Iran, a country seen by Israel as an existential threat, Gold said “I don’t think American elites bought into the idea that it [the Iranian nuclear deal] was an existential issue.”

And as to Kissinger during the Yom Kippur War, Gold maintained that Kissinger did not believe Israel was in existential danger.

“I would not rely on somebody’s Jewish background to yield a more sympathetic understanding of Israel, particularly today, when the monolithic [US] Jewish community has been replaced with diverse organizations that pull in different directions,” Gold said. “I’ve had experiences both ways – members of the Jewish community who were strongly supportive, and members who were highly critical.”


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