Mr. Biden has a smaller network of big donors than many politicians, making the musical chairs of selecting ambassadors slightly less complicated than it would have been for Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, known for her close relationships with donors who funded both her own political career and her husband’s.
During a 2020 campaign that was almost all virtual, it was difficult for donors to develop close personal relationships with a presidential candidate they had to meet over video chat instead of host in their living rooms.
What Mr. Biden does have, however, is a huge political circle, which is making the stakes more competitive. Former Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mr. Emanuel and Vicki Kennedy, the widow of former Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, are people Mr. Biden feels close to and who could make substantive arguments for being appointed to coveted posts abroad. Ms. McCaskill declined to comment on her interest in such a posting.
The donor bucket, filled with people who are perceived as simply buying themselves a comfortable perch overseas, and the political bucket, filled with appointees who might have some relevant experience, are often unfairly conflated.
“The professional Foreign Service cares a lot about having competent, professional people in the roles,” said Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. “You have political appointees with experience and access to the president or senior staff. Then you have another group that would struggle to find the country they were nominated for on an unmarked map. That’s the problematic group.”
Briefing books, which include two or three options for every post, have been compiled by Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, and Cathy Russell, the director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, are also involved in the selection process.
In a post-Trump world, the nominations are arguably more important to the president’s overall mission than ever before.