US foreign policy veteran Susan Rice tapped for Biden domestic policy role

A 2019 photo shows former national security adviser Susan Rice speaking at the Atlantic Festival in Washington.
A 2019 photo shows former national security adviser Susan Rice speaking at the Atlantic Festival in Washington.PHOTO: AFP

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE (REUTERS) - US President-elect Joe Biden tapped Susan Rice, a former national security adviser with significant foreign policy expertise, for a domestic policy brief on Thursday (Dec 10), putting an emphasis on managerial experience in his new administration.

A flurry of senior appointments underscored the former US vice-president's commitment to a diverse administration while rewarding longtime loyalists and veterans like himself of President Barack Obama's eight years in office.

Biden's selection of Rice, 56, as his top domestic policy adviser and director of his Domestic Policy Council came as a surprise given her extensive background in foreign affairs.

Besides her role as Obama's national security adviser, she earlier served as his ambassador to the United Nations. A black woman, she had been a contender to be Biden's running mate.

A source familiar with Biden's thinking said the president-elect does not view foreign policy and domestic policy as separate realms, and believes experience in one is relevant to the other.

Due to take office on Jan 20, Biden felt Rice's experience operating across federal government agencies would enable her to implement his policy agenda, including plans to rebuild an economy ravaged by the coronavirus, the source said.

Rice had been under consideration for Biden's secretary of state, but she likely would have faced fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress over her role in a controversy over the deadly 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.

The White House domestic policy post does not require US Senate confirmation. Biden ultimately chose longtime adviser Antony Blinken to head the State Department.

For other positions, Biden selected former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to serve a second tenure as agriculture secretary, Obama White House aide Denis McDonough as secretary of Veterans Affairs, US Representative Marcia Fudge to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Katherine Tai as US Trade Representative, his transition team said in a statement.

Familiar faces

Biden plans to introduce his latest slate of appointees on Friday in Delaware.

Transition spokesman Sean Savett said in a statement the picks were "forward-thinking, crisis-tested and experienced" and"ready to quickly use the levers of government to make meaningful differences in the lives of Americans and help govern on day one."

McDonough, 51, was a longtime national security aide to Obama prior to his stint as chief of staff during Obama's second term, where he worked closely with Biden.

A 2016 photo shows US president Barack Obama (left) listening to US national security adviser Susan Rice. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

But he has never served in the armed forces, and his selection caught some advocates for veterans off guard.

Joe Chenelly, executive director of American Veterans, which has more than 250,000 members and is known as AMVETS, said people from Biden's office reached out to him on Thursday to say that McDonough understands how the VA operates.

"They keep using the term 'pulling the levers of government'," Chenelly said, saying he was hopeful McDonough could improve coordination between the VA and the rest of the administration.

Vilsack, 69, served as USDA secretary under Obama for eight years and as Iowa governor from 1999 to 2007. He is seen by establishment Democrats as a sound choice, largely because of his moderate politics and relationships with large-scale farmers.

His congressional confirmation is expected to face headwinds from progressive Democrats. Critics argue Vilsack is cozy with corporate agribusiness and top lobbying groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the US Dairy Export Council, where he is currently the chief executive officer. He had been a staunch early backer of Biden's presidential bid.

Fudge, 68, is a congresswoman from Cleveland who has served in the US House of Representatives since 2008. If confirmed, she would be the second black woman to lead HUD, which focuses on federal policy surrounding housing.

She is a close ally of Representative James Clyburn, whose endorsement of Biden in February served as a turning point in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Tai, 45, a Chinese American who serves as the chief trade lawyer on the House Ways and Means Committee, played a key role in negotiating stronger labour provisions with the Trump administration in the new US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal.

She would be the first woman of colour to serve as trade representative.