Biden’s closest ally in the Senate emerges as a shadow secretary of state


Coons rejects the idea that he is replacing Blinken. Still, he is embracing the identity Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) described as a “force multiplier” for the president. As Blinken travels the world to tackle a host of diplomatic and national security issues, Biden can rely on Coons to make an emerging coup.

“The fact that it is known that I have a close relationship with [Biden] It helps me get a stronger message across, ”Coons said of his weekend trip to Addis Ababa, where he met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

“President Biden thought it important to send someone who could speak for him and deliver a message directly to him,” he added, referring to himself as Biden’s “personal emissary” on this mission.

In fact, Coons didn’t hesitate to say yes when asked by Biden to take the long trip to Africa to address the atrocities in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.

Coons delivered a letter from Biden to Abiy and returned to Washington with an answer for Biden in hand. Speaking to POLITICO two hours after landing back in the United States, his voice hoarse with exhaustion, Coons described the trip as “positive and determined.” And there is already evidence to back that up.

On Tuesday, Abiy admitted, after constant denials, that Eritrean troops did in fact enter the Tigray region, where they are accused of massacring and raping civilians. It was a breakthrough in the long-running conflict between Eritrea and the regional ruling party in Tigray, which has sought to overthrow the government of Abiy.

The United States has called for Eritrean troops to leave Tigray and for Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy to take responsibility for protecting all of its citizens, including ethnic minorities in that region, after credible reports emerged detailing horrific violations. of human rights. Blinken described the massacres earlier this month as “ethnic cleansing,” a claim the Ethiopian government denies.

Coons’ standing as a surrogate for the Biden administration is unique, dating back to calls he received last fall from foreign officials hoping to have access to his Delaware colleagues. It’s one that senators from both parties said Biden should continue to take advantage of.

“There are members of Congress who show interest in the issue, they can be of great help,” said Graham. “I think it’s a smart move by President Biden, and I know Chris is very capable.”

Despite the potential for territoriality Frictions between Coons and Blinken over foreign policy issues, none have arisen yet. The senator briefed the secretary at length on his way back from Ethiopia, noting that Blinken is “incredibly busy”, having met with Chinese officials in Alaska last week before flying to Brussels to speak with NATO and European Union officials.

“So if I can play a small role in advancing our shared priorities,” Coons said, “I’m very happy to do so.”

Coons was a natural complement to the Ethiopian mission, as he had deep ties to the region as well as a link to the president. The senator for the third term was a humanitarian aid worker in Kenya before attending law school and has served as the top Democrat on the Africa subcommittee of the Foreign Relations panel.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said that Coons, Blinken and the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, “have repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government, as well as other international partners at the highest level, to help ensure an end to violence “in Tigray.

Beyond foreign policy, Coons will remain pivotal as Biden tries to push his agenda through Congress. The Senate is poised to accept several major bills in the coming months that will likely need Republican support, and Coons’ good reputation with Republican senators, while it has gotten him in trouble with liberals, leaves him in good stead. position to help achieve an initiative. deal.

“Diplomacy is important to him, international diplomacy, but he’s also quite diplomatic in the Senate,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). “And he has been a good partner.”

That partnership mentality would make Coons an easy pick if Biden ends up having to find a replacement for Blinken later in his administration. The secretary of state job would be an easy one for Coons, his fellow senators have said, and would likely be confirmed with more than 90 votes.

It helps that Coons is always happy to discuss international affairs, both with journalists and with his colleagues. Senators from both parties questioned Coons about his trip when he returned to the Capitol on Monday. Coons remained on the ground for about 30 minutes during a series of evening votes answering questions about the situation in Ethiopia.

Despite his grueling travel schedule, Coons guessed that he only slept a total of six hours during the three-day trip, he was eager to stay and chat.

The 57-year-old declined to say whether he hopes to make similar diplomatic efforts on Biden’s behalf in the future, saying only that it is up to the president.

“I think it is important that the United States in general, and President Biden in particular, demonstrate commitment, concern and commitment to solving the humanitarian and human rights challenges in Tigray,” Coons said.

But while his Democratic friend remains in the Senate, Cornyn offered Coons a peculiar task that would be familiar to Tom Cruise fans: “the ambassador of quan.”

Cornyn jokingly bestowed that title on Coons when the two crossed paths on Capitol Hill this week. He refers to the 1996 movie “Jerry Maguire,” in which Cruise’s agent shows NFL star Cuba Gooding Jr. how to find more than just cash.

In the movie, “quan” means currency and community respect, two qualities Coons represents these days as a White House senator-slash-globetrotter, which explains why Coons jokingly responded to the Republican that his taunts were “almost literally”. Right.

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