Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021
A handwritten note reading "2021 Will Be Better" on a piece of confetti following a New Years Eve celebrations in the Times Square area of New York, U.S. (Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg)

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

U.S. senator from Alaska

With the Senate split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, any legislation from the Biden administration will have to sway the center. Republican Murkowski, 63, has made a career there, carving out a profile as an independent-minded senator willing to deal. While most Republicans swallowed their frustration with Donald Trump, Murkowski often criticized him and should also be willing to buck party sentiment and cut deals with the Biden White House. She has less to fear from her party’s right flank than most: Beaten in her 2010 primary by a Tea Party challenger, Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate in the general election—and won. —Joshua Green

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

Candidate for the presidency of Peru

Forsyth, 38, is leading polls for Peru’s presidential election on April 11. He was a goalkeeper for a top Peruvian soccer club before being elected councilman for a populous Lima district in 2010. In a brief stint as district mayor, he earned a reputation for being tough on crime. Forsyth’s father is a Peruvian diplomat, and his mother is a former Miss Chile; tabloid newspapers have dubbed him “Ken” for his good looks. He campaigns on a pro-business platform and presents himself as part of a new generation of leaders at a time when many parties are embroiled in corruption scandals. —John Quigley

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

For the last four years, Democrats watched Donald Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky stack the federal courts. Now it’s their turn. If a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court comes up, President Biden may turn to Jackson, who’s served on the U.S. District Court in Washington since she was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013. A former public defender, Jackson, 50, has spent much of her career focused on criminal justice reform, serving as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. She also was on a short list of candidates for the Supreme Court nomination that went to Merrick Garland in 2016. Should Biden pick her, it would be an historic nomination: Jackson would be the first Black woman selected for the Supreme Court. —David Yaffe-Bellany

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

Deputy prime minister of Russia

Novak, 49, was promoted from energy minister to deputy prime minister at the end of last year. He’d led the energy ministry since 2012, representing Russia in talks with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. His new purview will include the Russian energy sector as well as other industries. Novak rose to international prominence as one of the architects of OPEC+, which rescued oil prices from a deep slump in 2016 and again in 2020. He co-chairs several intergovernmental commissions, including the Russia-Saudi commission focused on wider economic cooperation between the two countries. —Olga Tanas, Evgenia Pismennaya, and Dina Khrennikova

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

Taiwan’s representative to the U.S.

Shortly after arriving in Washington, D.C., last summer, Hsiao hit the ground running—penning articles, speaking out in interviews, and participating in high-profile panels, all while the very pro-Taiwan Trump administration upgraded unofficial ties that had been in place since the U.S. officially recognized China in 1979. More recently, the former legislator, 49, has spoken by phone with incoming Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken in a bid to boost relations with Joe Biden’s camp. As China seeks to drive a wedge between Biden and President Tsai Ing-wen, Hsiao will play a key role in Taiwan’s attempt to maintain robust White House support for the democracy of 23 million, which Beijing threatens with invasion. —Chris Horton

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

Leader of the New Hope party, Israel

In December, Sa’ar, a former ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced he was defecting to start a political party to rival the nationalist Likud, saying it’s become a “tool” for the prime minister’s interests. Sa’ar, 54, a lawyer and former cabinet minister, launched his party, New Hope, with the aim of replacing the longtime premier. Israel’s fragile governing coalition collapsed weeks later, spurring an election on March 23, Israel’s fourth in two years. Polls suggest Sa’ar might be able to siphon off enough voters from both the right and center to unseat the country’s longest-serving leader. Support for Netanyahu has sunk following a bungled reopening of the economy last May. —Ivan Levingston

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

Nominated to be U.S. trade representative

Tai, who most recently served as the chief trade counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee, was a key figure in negotiations with the Trump administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement. She has a reputation as a progressive Democrat and is respected by members of both parties for her ability to find common ground. If confirmed, she will surely face pressure from competing interests on the question of whether or not to remove billions of dollars in tariffs that the Trump administration put in place. Her early duties are likely to include enforcing—and possibly renegotiating—a partial U.S.-China trade pact, charting a path to revamp the World Trade Organization, and untangling various trade disputes with the European Union. Tai, 46, is a fluent Mandarin speaker. —Jenny Leonard and Jennifer Epstein

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

Nominated to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

An environmental regulator in North Carolina, Regan, 44, is Biden’s nominee to run the EPA. He would be the first Black man to lead the agency. If confirmed, he’ll be expected to draw up new regulations and reverse Trump administration steps quickly to support Biden’s aggressive plans to cut carbon emissions. Another big part of the job at the agency would be rebuilding morale, which crumbled during the Trump years as many scientists left or were sidelined. The role will require collaboration with former EPA head Gina McCarthy and John Kerry, who are Biden’s new domestic climate czar and international climate envoy, respectively. —Amanda Kolson Hurley

Eight of the Most Important People to Watch in 2021

Find more stories at The Year Ahead.

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