The US Capitol Building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, DC. – The US Senate was poised to pass a massive relief package on Wednesday for Americans and businesses ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic as New York hospitals braced for a wave of virus patients. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
The US Capitol Building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, DC. – The US Senate was poised to pass a massive relief package on Wednesday for Americans and businesses ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic as New York hospitals braced for a wave of virus patients. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

dpa/GNA – Five of President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees, including for treasury secretary, secretary of state and defense secretary, faced senate nomination hearings on Tuesday giving key insights into the incoming Biden administrations priorities on economic stimulus and foreign policy.

Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary nominee, used her Senate testimony to push Biden’s plan for an additional 1.9 trillion dollars in stimulus to aid the economy and weather the rest of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The smartest thing we can do is act big,” said Yellen at her confirmation hearing, noting that interest rates are at historic lows. She spoke about making major investments, such as infrastructure projects, and warned that low-balling the needed relief could prolong the economic downturn.

She also described China as the “most important strategic competitor” the United States is facing.

The US must work with allies and improve its own economy in order to counter unfair, illegal and abusive practices by Beijing, including dumping, intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, Yellen said.

Without mentioning Beijing specifically, Yellen also vowed to fight currency manipulation by other countries, if she is confirmed, while pledging to let the dollar find its own rate on the open market.

“The United States does not seek a weaker currency to gain competitive advantage,” Yellen said.

The Senate committees hold interviews with Cabinet nominees, but the full Senate votes on confirmation, in line with the Constitution.

Biden will be sworn in as president on Wednesday without any of his Cabinet appointments having been confirmed.

The first votes will likely take place next week.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s selection to be the incoming secretary of state, appeared before the Foreign Relations Committee, and said the administration will work with US allies on Iran, with the goal of getting to a “longer and stronger agreement” over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

A broader deal would include the issue of nuclear weapons and other concerns, such as missile capacity and regional stability.

Blinken said the current situation with Iran was back at a “crisis point” after the Trump administration pulled out of the multi-national deal from 2015 constraining Iran, and Tehran in turn began to unwind its commitments, including enriching uranium.

“If Iran comes back into compliance we would too,” Blinken said, explaining that his approach would be to use the return to the 2015 deal as a “platform” for a broader agreement. “We are a long way from there,” he added.

Blinken also said the US will support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but added that he does not see “near-term” progress on that issue to be likely.

Blinken added that the US will review the designation of Yemen’s Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization as this impedes humanitarian aid deliveries to people in need.

The US will also continue to oppose the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is meant to funnell natural gas from Russia to Germany, Blinken said.

Lloyd Austin, who would be the first black secretary of defence, said Asia, and China especially, should be the focus of US military priorities.

Austin will need a waiver for his job, as he only recently left the military. The issue will likely not get in the way of his confirmation, but there will be debate around the waiver, as there is concern about ensuring civilian oversight of the military.

Austin said he “will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military as intended.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee also questioned Avril Haines, who is to take over as director of national intelligence, and Alejandro Mayorkas faced a grilling at the homeland security committee as he looks set to be confirmed as the new secretary of the department.

Haines was asked about the Iran nuclear deal, which outgoing President Donald Trump unilaterally exited. She said Biden would want to get back into the deal, but first Tehran would have to fall back into compliance and that seemed to be a long way off.

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