Biden Offers a Trump Rebuke With His Choices for Spy Chief, DHS

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President-elect Joe Biden is delivering a not-so-subtle rebuke to President Donald Trump with his choices of nominees to lead two key national-security agencies.

For his director of national intelligence, Biden has selected Avril Haines, a former top CIA official with years of experience in the espionage community who would fill a job that Trump had largely reserved for people better known for their loyalty to him.

And as homeland security secretary, the president-elect has picked Alejandro Mayorkas, a former head of Citizenship and Immigration Services who would become the first Latino and immigrant to lead an agency that has played a central role in Trump’s widely criticized border crackdown. Mayorkas also served as deputy secretary of the department.

The selections were announced Monday by Biden’s transition team as part of a broader slate of cabinet posts including the president-elect’s choices for secretary of State and national security adviser. The moves marked Biden’s latest effort to begin forming his administration, even as Trump and his allies refuse to concede the election and continue to contest the result, stalling the formal handoff of power.

Haines will be the first woman selected to oversee the 17 agencies that make up America’s intelligence community after her previous posts at the CIA and time as a deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration. Mayorkas, the first Latino and immigrant picked to run DHS, also served as deputy DHS secretary in the Obama administration.

The 51-year-old Haines is “one the hardest working people I know and she’ll be fantastic at DNI,” former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said during an event Monday hosted by the Center for a New American Security. “I can’t stress enough the importance of a well-running functional, bipartisan, credible intelligence community.”

Assuming she is confirmed by the Senate, Haines’s experience will contrast sharply with Trump’s most recent picks to lead the intelligence community. Feeling like he was undermined by “deep state” operatives across his government, President Donald Trump increasingly turned to political allies instead of intelligence veterans to serve as his DNI.

While his first DNI chief, former Indiana Senator Dan Coats, was a respected former member of the Intelligence Committee, Coats’s willingness to publicly criticize the president for siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin put him in Trump’s crosshairs and left him sidelined by then-CIA chief Michael Pompeo.

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By the time the president tapped former Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to be acting DNI in early 2019, his strongest credential was his unwavering support of Trump.

Grenell, who also made history as the highest profile openly gay member of Trump’s administration, held the post until another loyalist with little background in intelligence, former Texas Representative John Ratcliffe, replaced him in May.

Ratcliffe was criticized for politicizing intelligence issues in October when he downplayed Russia’s role in election meddling after Trump signaled he was tired of hearing about Moscow’s interference in U.S. politics.

Like Haines at DNI, Mayorkas would also start work with a deep understanding of how his agency works.

A 60-year-old Jewish Cuban-American, Mayorkas came to the U.S. from Havana as an infant. He said in a tweet Monday that he fondly recalled the “refuge” the U.S. provided his family and said he’d look out for those who flee persecution in search of a better life.

From the day he announced his candidacy for president in 2015, Trump whipped up anti-immigration sentiment, saying the U.S. was plagued by undocumented Mexican immigrants who were “rapists” and vowing to get Mexico to pay for building a bigger and longer wall along the border.

Under Obama, Mayorkas had a key role in developing and shepherding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA, which came under fire as soon as Trump took office.

White House officials, including adviser Stephen Miller, spent the better part of his administration trying to undo DACA, which protects people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The program, which was never codified in legislation, gave those children, often called Dreamers, protection from being deported and allowed them to work legally.

Trump said he would “take care” of Dreamers and continue negotiating immigration laws when asked about his position on DACA at an October town hall, but he never offered clear proposals to do so. Biden, meanwhile, committed to reinstating DACA in the first 100 days of his presidency, according to his campaign website.

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“Mr. Mayorkas’s efforts to help immigrant youth through the creation of the DACA program earned him the trust and respect of immigrant communities,” Kerri Talbot, the director of federal advocacy at Immigration Hub, said in a statement Monday.

That will contrast with the Trump’s administration’s unapologetic pressure on refugees and both legal and undocumented migrants, including the forced separation of thousands of children from their parents when they were caught crossing the border from Mexico.

Trump also ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to broaden the targets of their immigration raids after the Obama administration sought to prioritize undocumented migrants with criminal records.

When he was pressed about the treatment of immigrants in custody -- even those separated from their children -- Trump responded that those people “are living far better now than where they came from.”

Immigrants rights groups said they hope a for a more compassionate approach from the next administration.

“Alejandro Mayorkas is an inspired choice,” Frank Sharry, the executive director of the group America’s Voice said in a statement. “Mayorkas understands intuitively what America at its best stands for and how these values need to be operationalized in law, regulation and policy.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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