US President-elect Joe Biden announced several administration picks Thursday, including Obama-era officials such as former national security advisor Susan Rice as White House Domestic Policy Council director and ex-chief of staff Denis McDonough as veterans affairs secretary.
The appointments, laid out by Biden’s presidential transition team, highlight the diversity which Biden pledged to bring to his cabinet.
“This is the right team for this moment in history, and I know that each of these leaders will hit the ground running on day one to take on the interconnected crises families are facing today,” Biden said in a statement.
Rice, who is Black, had been a contender for secretary of state. But she was expected to face intense opposition from Republicans in the Senate confirmation process over her role in the Benghazi crisis of 2012, and that prestigious cabinet position went to close Biden advisor Antony Blinken.
Heading the Domestic Policy Council will assure Rice, 56, gets into the president-elect’s White House inner circle and see her influence key elements of Biden’s “build back better” agenda amid a surging coronavirus pandemic and strains over racial justice.
But it may be seen as a surprise appointment given her experience in foreign policy. The position does not need Senate confirmation.
McDonough, 51, served multiple roles in Barack Obama’s administration, including White House chief of staff and deputy national security advisor.
He has been nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, a sprawling government agency tasked with managing a health care network that serves nine million enrolled veterans.
Biden has repeatedly stressed that his presidency will not equate to a third Obama term, and yet Thursday’s announcement spotlights his close connection with his Democratic predecessor’s brain trust.
He named 69-year-old Iowan Tom Vilsack, Obama’s secretary of agriculture for two full terms, to the same role, which is seen as central to the coronavirus response as the department helps feed millions of Americans in need.
A tug of war over the agriculture post reportedly developed in recent weeks, with progressive congresswoman Marcia Fudge a leading candidate.
Instead, Fudge, 68, was nominated to serve as secretary of housing and urban development, a position whose profile could also rise as the pandemic fuels a potential eviction crisis.
Biden also chose international trade expert Katherine Tai to be the US trade representative.
Tai, currently the chief trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, would be the first Asian American and first woman of color in the USTR role.
The transition team also confirmed that Biden will travel to Georgia Tuesday to boost two Democratic candidates in tight run-off elections that will determine which party controls the US Senate.
The trip coincides with the start of early voting there next Monday.
The runoffs feature former journalist Jon Ossoff challenging Republican Senator David Perdue, and Raphael Warnock, pastor at one of the most prominent Black churches in America, running to unseat Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler.
Biden narrowly won Georgia in the presidential race. The tight state contest has been challenged by President Donald Trump, who has made repeated accusations that the election was “rigged” and that massive fraud helped Biden win in Georgia and elsewhere.
No evidence has emerged to support such claims.