Linda Thomas-Greenfield

In this Jan. 9, 2014, photo Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield (R) testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to tap Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. 

President-elect Joe Biden hasn’t skipped a beat. Even before it was announced late Monday that the Trump White House would cooperate with a peaceful transition of power, Biden made a string of nominations, including a Black woman as the the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Linda Thomas-Greenfield is a low-key, veteran foreign service officer, reflecting the president-elect’s intent to return to a more traditional role at the world body.

Other top national security positions announced include Antony Blinken for secretary of state, Jake Sullivan for national security advisor, Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security, John Kerry as presidential envoy for climate, and Shuwanza Goff as deputy director for legislative affairs and liaison to the House of Representatives.

In 2013, Goff made history as the first Black woman to be floor director for the legislative body under House Majority leader Steny H. Hoyer. There, she determined which bills came to the House floor, set the legislative schedule, and helped craft the overall House Democratic agenda.

If confirmed by the Senate, Linda Thomas-Greenfield would not be the first Black woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But she’s a groundbreaking diplomat nonetheless. Thomas-Greenfield joined the State Department more than three decades ago, when Black women were even more of a rarity in the U.S. diplomatic corps than they are today.

That makes her the most experienced diplomat of the six people named by Biden for top national security positions on Monday. Her background positions her well to carry out Biden’s goal of returning the United States to a role as a leading force at the world body, after four years of an administration that has had little use for multilateralism or international organizations.

“My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place,” she said in a tweet Monday. “I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service – and, if confirmed, will do the same as Ambassador to the United Nations.”

Thomas-Greenfield is a 35-year veteran of the State Department who served as ambassador to Liberia, director general of the foreign service and top diplomat for Africa before being forced out during the early months of the Trump administration.

While she won’t be the first Black American to serve as UN envoy – Andrew Young, who held the job during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, holds that distinction – Thomas-Greenfield’s selection is a signal to Biden supporters that his diversity message and plan to elevate career diplomats is not just lip service.

Susan Rice, who was also under consideration to be secretary of state, was the first Black woman to hold the UN post, but she was not a career foreign service officer, though she held a senior State Department position in President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Other than secretary of state, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is often the most high-profile foreign policy portfolio in a presidential administration. The influence of these ambassadors vary depending on the nature of the president and secretary of state, but Democratic administrations have traditionally leaned more heavily on them than Republicans have.

At the UN, Rice was clearly influential in the Obama administration, and Samantha Jane Power followed suit after she replaced Rice when Rice was named national security adviser, retaining Cabinet rank.

“This will be a phenomenal team,” said Power. “[They] bring decency, professionalism, judgment and decades of foreign policy experience to these essential jobs. And America will be so well served.”

Thomas-Greenfield “is a valued colleague and veteran diplomat who will restore US leadership and cooperation at the UN,” said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

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