Former New York Congressman Steve Israel, Disney’s Bob Iger and seasoned diplomats like Bill Burns are among the names floated. Yet Biden’s transition knows that there is nothing to gain by narrowing the field right now.
After rolling out diverse national security and press teams, Biden is now facing increasing pressure to maintain a focus on diversity. His team could likely face similar challenges, and new ones, when they turn to the complicated puzzle of picking ambassadors to represent Biden’s administration around the globe and help to carry out his central policy goal of rebuilding US alliances.
The sheer number of policy professionals and donors that have been drawn into Biden’s orbit over the last five decades, alongside Biden’s commitment to reviving the morale and impact of career diplomats and to having an administration that looks like America, will make the ambassador selection process tricky.
But the reality is that a vast number of the donors and policy experts are white males.
“There are not enough jobs for all of these people,” said one source familiar with the discussions, also noting that many of the people expected to be under consideration are not diverse candidates.
Already, the jockeying has begun.
“Anyone who supported the campaign and has a big name is in some conversations,” said a source involved in the transition.
Those conversations are just beginning, people familiar with the process say, with contributors and loyal supporters making it clear they are interested in key diplomatic posts. Yet it’s a careful balancing act, given the crush of Cabinet nominations and appointments that take priority over ambassadors.
The first wave of announcements is unlikely to come until January with the US ambassador to Israel expected to be on the list, a senior Democrat close to the Biden transition says.
Among those likely to be considered are Daniel Shapiro, who served in the post during the Obama-Biden administration; Michael Adler, a Miami developer and longtime supporter of Biden; former New York Congressman Steve Israel; and Tom Nides, a former senior State Department official.
“Israel will be a coveted, yet critically important, post after four years of the Trump administration,” a Democratic official close to the transition told CNN, adding that several other names are also expected to be in the mix for that post.
With Biden setting out to repair America’s relationship with the world, after he has accused Trump of shattering alliances, many believe that experienced diplomats will be key to his success. Donors often have had little to no experience in the trenches of diplomacy, but they ae often handed plum posts such as London or Paris.
For any incoming administration, the roster of ambassadors is a list of bold-faced names, many of whom hail from the ranks of top campaign contributors. In this case, the top echelon of Biden donors includes more than 800 individuals and couples, who each raised at least $100,000.
“Not everyone on that list wants to be an ambassador,” one top Biden fundraiser tells CNN. “But a lot sure do.”
When Biden was asked about selecting political donors as ambassadors last year, he did not rule it out, but said the donations would not determine their role.
“I’m going to appoint the best people possible. Nobody, in fact, will be appointed by me based on anything they contributed,” Biden said on a campaign bus in Iowa.
Conversations with several donors and Biden transition officials all made one thing clear: The fallout from the pandemic and recession will almost certainly slow down the traditional nominating process of ambassadors. Biden’s support for the US foreign service, along with his belief in their diplomatic mission, is almost certain to mean that some key posts go to career officials over high-level donors.
Still, with each incoming administration, the “who’s who” of potential ambassadors is one of official Washington’s favorite parlor games.
A person close to Clinton dismissed the speculation as early conjecture. Another source familiar with the discussions said she was unlikely to seek a role that would force her to go through a confirmation hearing.
The Senate question
There are also big-time American businessmen who are interested in joining the diplomatic ranks — with Bloomberg owner and co-founder Mike Bloomberg interested in the UK and Disney’s outgoing CEO Bob Iger interested in China, a source familiar told CNN. Comcast executive David Cohen is also under consideration for an ambassadorship, according to the source involved with the transition.
Biden loyalists won’t be left out of the conversations. People such as Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden advisor and one of the chairs of the Biden transition, and Amos Hochstein, who worked closely with Biden when he was Vice President as the special envoy for international energy affairs, are also under consideration two sources said. But there are also many jobs in Washington that Biden still has to fill, and his close aides could land in those positions.