WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, giving President Joe Biden the first member of his Cabinet and placing the first woman in charge of the nearly two-decade old agency.
Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA and deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, was confirmed with an overwhelming 84-10 vote, signaling a bipartisan desire for confirming Biden’s national security nominees and installing strong leadership after four turbulent years for the intelligence community.
Former President Donald Trump spent much of his presidency criticizing intelligence officials, doubting them and installing loyalist leaders — retribution for a probe into his ties to Russia that began before he was elected.
In her confirmation hearing Tuesday, Haines made clear she intends to end the Trump administration’s practice of pressuring officials to shape their analysis to the president’s liking.
“When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Haines said she sees the job as speaking “truth to power” and delivering accurate and apolitical intelligence even if it was uncomfortable or inconvenient for the administration. She said China would be a major focus.
Suspicious of leaks and backstabbing, Trump nominated and installed close allies to head the agency in his final year, further battering morale and creating suspicion within the community and in Congress, where leaders in both parties suspected they were not always getting the intelligence they were legally entitled to receive.
“The last four years have been hard on the intelligence community,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee after Democrats took the majority on Wednesday. Warner said Haines is “clear eyed” and “the right woman to repair this damage.”
Warner said Haines “will support the men and women of the IC, and protect them from political pressure. She will insist that they tell us their best analysis and not shy away from telling decision-makers that their cherished beliefs are wrong.”
Haines also won support from the committee’s top Republican, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who said he looks forward to working with her. “Our adversaries will not stand by and wait for the new administration to staff critical positions,” Rubio said.
The Senate was able to vote quickly on the nomination and bypass a committee vote, just hours after Biden’s inauguration, when Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton dropped his objection to the nomination Wednesday evening.
Cotton had said he did not want the Senate to move forward on her nomination until he had assurances from her that she would not re-open investigations into Bush-era interrogation programs, citing comments she made at the hearing. He said Wednesday evening that Haines had clarified that she “had no intention to open up those investigations and expose operations officers inside the CIA to criminal prosecution.”