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Senate Panel To Hold Confirmation Hearing For Secretary Of State Designate

NOEL KING, HOST:

Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, will answer questions from the Senate at a confirmation hearing today. If he's confirmed, what are his priorities? Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When he introduced himself at a carefully staged event with Biden last November, Tony Blinken talked about his own American story. He says his grandfather fled the Russian pogroms and found refuge in America. His stepfather was a Holocaust survivor who was rescued by an African American GI.

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TONY BLINKEN: That's who we are. That's what America represents to the world, however imperfectly.

KELEMEN: Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state and longtime Biden aide, promised to restore America's credibility on the world stage with humility.

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BLINKEN: But also confidence because America at its best still has a greater ability than any other country on Earth to bring others together to meet the challenges of our time.

KELEMEN: That's harder in the wake of the Capitol Hill insurrection, says Senator Chris Murphy, who spoke last week to the Atlantic Council.

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CHRIS MURPHY: He had a huge job ahead of him, right? The mountain that he was going to have to climb to restore America's credibility was a 14,000-footer. It just became a 15,000-footer.

KELEMEN: The incoming Biden administration plans on day one to rejoin the Paris climate accord, restore America's place in the World Health Organization and reverse Trump's travel ban. That's low-hanging fruit, says Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Beyond that, he says, Blinken and his boss have their work cut out.

AARON DAVID MILLER: Looking out at this world, you know, I divide it into migraine headaches on one hand and root canals on the other.

KELEMEN: There's the coronavirus pandemic, the Iranian threat in the Middle East, North Korea's expanding nuclear and missile arsenal and much more.

MILLER: It's a world where American power and influence is now challenged routinely by China and Russia, by smaller powers like Iran and North Korea and where, you know, the notion that we are the indispensable power has kind of gone the way of the dodo. It doesn't mean we can't lead, but it's going to be a lot harder.

KELEMEN: Especially when it comes to China. Michael Green, who was the top Asia diplomat in the Bush administration, says in the past, China has tried hard not to become a domestic U.S. issue. But he says Chinese President Xi Jinping is doubling down, and the Trump administration left some real problems.

MICHAEL GREEN: The withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership means that the United States is now involved in none of the major economic negotiations in Asia. We're out of that game. Biden's team has to find a way back in. Trump and his leadership skipped most of the diplomacy in Southeast Asia, and that's where China is starting to expand its influence. So Biden's team has to get back into that diplomatic game.

KELEMEN: Biden is bringing in some diplomatic heavyweights to help. He's tapped a former assistant secretary of state, Kurt Campbell, to oversee Asia policy in the White House and former Secretary of State John Kerry to take the lead in climate diplomacy. Green, who's with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, puts it this way.

GREEN: There are some traditional foreign policy experts who think this is a really bad idea to have too many chefs in the kitchen. I don't see how Biden can avoid it, given all the challenges he faces.

KELEMEN: Tony Blinken still needs to get through his confirmation process to start the job. Senator Murphy says he hopes to get the new secretary of state in place later this week. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "HIGH SUNSET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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