Presumed President-elect Joseph R. Biden served up few surprises in introducing his national security and foreign policy picks this week, nominating longtime advisers and well-known establishment figures to run the State Department, the National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The big surprise was who was not there.
Michele Flournoy has long been the odds-on choice to lead the Department of Defense in a Biden administration, but she was notably absent in Wilmington, Delaware, this week when the former vice president rolled out his first picks.
It may be a paperwork glitch but Ms. Flournoy’s absence has led to some speculation over whether she has a lock on the job after all. On paper, she would seem an obvious choice: She served as undersecretary of defense in the Obama Administration — generally considered the No. 3 position in the Pentagon — and earlier served as a top policy aide in other Defense Department postings.
A centrist Democrat who has worked with Republicans, Ms. Flournoy also co-founded the Center for a New American Security — a Washington think tank — and WestExec Advisors, a strategic consulting firm, where she worked with
Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken. But other positions on her resume have caused concerns for some on the Democratic left.
The advocacy group “Win Without War” hailed Mr. Biden’s other picks as “a clear rejection of Trump’s foreign policy” that “show a commitment to expertise, diplomacy and global engagement.”
But, the left-leaning organization noted there are questions to be answered regarding Ms. Flournoy.
“Any financial ties by nominees to the defense industry raise ethics concerns which must be addressed,” the group said in a statement.
In addition to the work with WestExec Advisors, Ms. Flournoy also serves on the board of Booz Allen Hamilton, a Virginia-based consulting firm with a number of major government contracts.
Rep. Ro Khanna, a rising California Democrat who served as co-chair of the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, is among those in Congress who are raising questions about Ms. Flournoy’s links to the defense industry and past foreign policy positions.
“The people that work in an industry shouldn’t then be nominated to regulate that industry,” he said Wednesday in a Twitter message. “We need to set the standard of not perpetuating the revolving door.”
Touching on a still-divisive issue for Democrats, Mr. Khanna said Ms. Flournoy’s record including backing the U.S. wars in Iraq and Libya, criticizing President Obama’s noninterventionist position on Syria and helping to craft the surge in Afghanistan.
“I want to support the president’s picks. But will Flournoy now commit to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan and a ban on arms sales to the Saudis to end the Yemen War?” he tweeted.
Just Foreign Policy, a progressive group, is preparing a petition to Mr. Biden calling on Ms. Flournoy to address her past support of policies widely seen as more aggressive militant than the president-elect, the news website Al-Monitor.com reported Wednesday.
There is no sign Ms. Flournoy is out of the running, but two former Obama White House officials told Politico this week that the presumptive president-elect never developed the kind of “strong, personal relationship” with Ms. Flournoy that he enjoyed with his other Cabinet picks to date.
“Michele is still at the top of the list but they still want to keep looking — and that’s a change,” a former national security official told Politico.
Liberal Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Barbara Lee of California, both members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, sent Mr. Biden a letter specifically asking that his pick for the Pentagon have no prior employment history with a defense contractor.
“It is unsurprising that the largest defense budgets in our nation’s history have come at a time during which senior defense personnel are intimately connected — through past and future employment — to the corporations profiting the most from those very same budgets,” they wrote.