Senate Confirms Biden Nominee as Top Intelligence Chief

Senate Confirms Biden Nominee as Top Intelligence Chief
Avril Haines (C) and Dan Coats (L), former Director of National Intelligence, arrive at the start of the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington to consider her to be President Joe Biden’s pick for national intelligence director on Jan. 19, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Janita Kan

The Senate on Jan. 20 confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as the head of the U.S. Intelligence Community, the first of the president’s Cabinet picks to be approved.

Avril Haines, who was nominated as the director of National Intelligence, was confirmed by an 84–10 vote. Democrats were hopeful that they would be able to get more Biden nominees confirmed on Jan. 20 but it appears that Haines will be the only official to receive the confirmation from the upper chamber on the administration’s first day.

Haines is replacing former Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) who served in the post for almost eight months. During his tenure, he declassified documents relating to the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign over alleged collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation from May 2017 to March 2019 found there was no collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign, and it found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
During her confirmation hearing, Haines told lawmakers that she believes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is an adversary to America in some areas while a partner in others, such as climate change.

“Is China, under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, an adversary of the United States?” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked.

“China is adversarial and an adversary on some issues and, in other issues, we try to cooperate with them, whether in the context of climate change or other things,” Haines responded.

“And ultimately, the frame that the president-elect has identified for thinking about this is a global competitor,” she added. “But I think that doesn’t, to your point, in any way mitigate the fact that when it comes to espionage or the variety of areas that I’ll be focused on if I’m confirmed as the director of national intelligence, they are an adversary and that we have to work on those issues, in particular, countering their illegal, unfair, aggressive actions in these spaces.”

Warner, the top Democrat on the committee, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the then-committee chairman, both said the CCP “poses the greatest national security threat to the United States.”

Haines had also pledged during her hearing that she would keep her office out of politics.

“To be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power—even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult,” she said in her opening statement. “To safeguard the integrity of our Intelligence Community, the DNI must insist that, when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics—ever.”

Haines served as deputy national security adviser in the Obama White House from 2015 to 2017. Prior to that, she served as the deputy director of the CIA.

Biden announced his intention to appoint Haines on Nov. 23, 2020. She was one of the five Cabinet nominees who had their confirmation hearings on Jan. 19.

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
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