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A seasoned diplomat who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa under Barack Obama’s administration, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, 68, was confirmed by 78 votes to 20 in the upper house, which has the power to approve or to reject presidential nominations.

The Senate also confirmed by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday Tom Vilsack, 70, as Minister of Agriculture, a post he had held throughout the Obama presidency (2009-2017): 92 votes in favor and seven against .

Other members chosen by Joe Biden for his cabinet face stronger resistance, including his candidate to head the Ministry of Health, Xavier Becerra, who spent Tuesday on the grill of senators in committee.

“We will study Mr Becerra’s testimony today but I find it hard to see how such a radical and underqualified candidate could take such a crucial position at such a critical time” of the Covid-19 pandemic , said Leader of the Republican Senators Mitch McConnell.

Democrats have a tiny majority in the Senate: with 50 seats against 50 Republicans, they can count on the voice of Vice President Kamala Harris, who has the power to tie the votes.

If he retains the support of all Democrats, Mr. Becerra, 63, can therefore be confirmed and become the first Hispanic to head this ministry.

Another Joe Biden candidate, Neera Tanden, appointed to lead the budget in the White House, appears in greater difficulty after a Democratic senator announced Friday that he would oppose her confirmation. She will therefore have to find at least Republican support to become the first woman of Indian origin to head the Office of Management and Budget at the White House (OMB).

The Senate has so far confirmed less than half of the 23 cabinet members of Joe Biden, who came to power on January 20.

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New WTO director-general arrives for 1st day on job

GENEVA (AP) — The new director-general of the World Trade Organization — the first African and first woman to hold the post — has arrived at its Geneva headquarters for her first day on the job.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 66, a Nigerian economist and former government minister, donned a mask as she made brief comments to reporters on way into the imposing building on the shores of Lake Geneva on Monday.

“I am coming into one of the most important institutions in the world and we have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I feel ready to go.”

She was expected to meet staffers and speak briefly with non-governmental groups that support a key fisheries reform proposal being discussed at the WTO, before attending her first meeting of the General Council — made up of envoys from the international trade body’s 164 member states.

Some of those meetings with will be limited because of measures to fight COVID-19, and the closed-door General Council meeting is to be largely by videoconference.

Okonjo-Iweala’s victory in a hotly contested race last fall was delayed largely because the U.S. administration under Donald Trump supported another candidate. Her appointment came through last month when the Biden administration cleared the way for her selection at the trade body, whose rules require consensus.

The WTO, which works to craft accords that can ensure smooth international trade, is facing headwinds such as rising protectionism. Its dispute settlement system has been blocked because the United States has almost singlehandedly prevented appointments to its Appellate Body — a rough equivalent to an appeals court.

Okonjo-Iweala said last month that “wide-ranging reforms” are needed at the WTO, and that her first priority would be to address the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic — such as by working to lift export restrictions on supplies and vaccines to get them distributed to countries in need.

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