President-elect Joe Biden appoints Susan Rice as director of the White House Home Policy Council, giving her broad influence over her administration’s approach to immigration, health and racial inequality and raises the post in the west wing.
The move marks a surprising change for Rice, a longtime Democratic foreign policy expert who served as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and ambassador to the UN. She worked closely with then-vice president Biden in these roles and was on her shortlist to become her vice president during the 2020 campaign.
Biden also appoints Denis McDonough, who was Obama’s chief of staff in the White House, as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a sprawling agency that has presented organizational challenges for both sides over the years.
By choosing Rice and McDonough, Biden continues to stock his administration with prominent members of the Obama administration. He will make the official announcements on Friday, with his appointments of U.S. Representative to Ohio Marcia Fudge to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade Representative and Tom Vilsack as Secretary to agriculture. Vilsack fulfilled this same role during Obama’s two terms.
Working families, veterans, farmers and producers, and those fighting for their place in the middle class, will once again have partners in government.
This experienced group will help us navigate this pandemic and thrive once the crisis is over.https://t.co/5tVM8IrmYM
– Biden-Harris presidential transition (@ Transition46) December 10, 2020
“The roles they will play are where the rubber meets the road – where competent and crisis-tested governance can make a significant difference in people’s lives, improving dignity, equity, security and prosperity. in the daily lives of Americans, ”Biden said in a statement.
In choosing Rice to oversee the White House council, the advisers said Biden signaled the importance of domestic politics in his first agenda. Although the board was created with the intention of being on par with the White House’s National Security Council, it has traditionally had a lower public profile, including for its directors.
Rice is expected to be more of a force, both inside and outside the White House, and her appointment creates a new center of power in the West Wing. She discussed replicating certain elements of the National Security Council in its new role, including a board of directors of cabinet secretaries and others who could bring more structure to national policy making, but also attract more power in the west wing.
She is expected to play an active role in the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Health care, immigration and the fight against racial inequalities are also expected to be high on domestic politics next year.
Rice, 56, will be one of the most prominent black women in Biden’s administration. Rice was also in the running to become Biden’s vice president before choosing California Senator Kamala Harris.
Since then, Rice has discussed other roles with Biden’s team and was initially considered a candidate for secretary of state. But as a long-time target of Republicans, his prospects for a cabinet post dimmed after the election, given the narrow composition of the Senate. A pair of flows in Georgia next month will determine which party is in control, but either setup will be extremely close.
Rice’s role of overseeing the council does not require Senate confirmation.
Although Biden has insisted his administration will not be simply a withdrawal from Obama’s presidency, he brings back many familiar faces. His team defended these movements as a nod to the experience and the need to tackle the pressing issues facing the nation on multiple fronts.
Shirley Anne Warshaw, a professor at Gettysburg College who studied presidency and cabinets, said following Obama as he built his team gave Biden an advantage.
“It’s a much better bench than Obama’s because these people have the experience of serving in the Obama administration,” Warshaw said. “In this way, Joe Biden is the luckiest man in the world.”
McDonough, the VA candidate, is an experienced manager who served as chief of staff throughout Obama’s second term. McDonough was previously Obama’s deputy national security adviser, including in the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and was a longtime congressman.
McDonough has been credited with helping Obama try to bridge the divides on Capitol Hill, especially around one of his most significant legislative achievements in the second term: the Veterans Choice Act. The legislation, for which President Donald Trump is trying to take credit for, has given former service members more options to seek care and the VA secretary more authority to fire underperforming employees.
The bill came about as a result of exposure during the Obama administration to mismanagement at some VA hospitals and growing complaints from advocacy groups. As chief of staff, McDonough was also deeply involved in an overhaul of VA leadership after the scandals, which led to the removal of the department secretary.
Biden balances many priorities as he fills out his cabinet, including delivering on his promise to have a diverse group of senior advisers. This created tensions over high-level jobs, including that of secretary of agriculture.
Fudge’s allies have made no secret of their desire for her to lead the department, given her oversight of food stamps and other programs aimed at addressing food insecurity – one of her long-standing priorities. Instead, Biden went with Vilsack, a longtime friend and supporter of the Democrats paying more attention to the rural United States.
A transition official said Vilsack and Fudge met on Wednesday to lay the groundwork for their two agencies to cooperate on these and other initiatives.