Updated Dec 10, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden taps Susan Rice to steer domestic policy

Former National Security adviser Susan Rice smiles and waves to a conference audience with an American flag in the background.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President-elect Biden will name former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to head the Domestic Policy Council, the Biden transition team confirmed Thursday — a significant change from her previous roles that would put her in charge of major portions of his “Build Back Better” plan.

Between the lines: Rice was previously considered for Cabinet positions including Secretary of State, but she would have faced steep confirmation odds given her history of clashes with some GOP senators and as a flashpoint over Benghazi. The DPC role does not require Senate confirmation.

  • She'll coordinate closely with the president-elect’s top national security and economic advisers, Jake Sullivan and Brian Deese.
  • This reflects Biden’s desire for more interconnected management of foreign, economic and domestic policy.

Background: Rice, 56, a Black woman and former UN ambassador, is a heavy-hitter and trusted friend whom Biden considered for his running mate as well as Cabinet posts. She's being brought in to elevate the DPC’s stature along with an expansion of staff and resources to guide the U.S. through the pandemic and recovery.

  • “She’s not a wallflower; she’s going to speak up when she thinks something needs more attention,” one source tells Axios, adding that Biden “welcomes that.”
  • Movement toward a stronger DPC also took place during the Trump administration.
  • Many presidential advisers over the years have served in multiple administrations. It’s less common to bounce between foreign- and domestic-facing roles, though there have been notable examples, including James Baker and Leon Panetta.

Be smart: While Rice's resume is heavy on foreign policy, diplomacy and national security, her biography is steeped in consideration of domestic issues including civil rights, education and economic and racial equality.

  • Her late mother was known as "the mother of Pell Grants," while her late father was a Federal Reserve governor and economics professor and served in the Tuskegee Airmen. Her grandparents were immigrants and her great-grandfather was a slave.
  • She and Biden have spoken in detail about how her personal and family story has shaped her views of domestic challenges, the sources said.

How it works: In this role, Rice will meet regularly with Biden, sit on the administration’s COVID-19 task force, convene sessions with Cabinet secretaries and formulate and coordinate policies.

  • Health care, immigration and racial equity are expected to top the new administration’s domestic priorities.
  • More broadly, the DPC encompasses agencies' work on education, labor, energy, gun policy, veterans’ affairs, housing, transportation, agriculture, the environment, conservation, opioid addiction, civil rights, voting rights and democratic governance.

What we're watching: Over the past two years, Rice has increasingly turned her time and commentary to domestic matters through opinion pieces, a memoir and serving on a bipartisan group that advised D.C. on structuring its COVID-19 reopening.

The big picture: The Biden transition team also announced on Thursday that President Obama's former chief of staff Denis McDonough would be nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the president-elect continues to stock his Cabinet with familiar faces.

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