Jan 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden plans to pick former ambassador as protocol chief

Rufus Gifford is seen with his spouse, Stephen Devincent, during a formal reception in Denmark.
Rufus Gifford, right, and his husband, Stephen DeVincent, at a 2017 royal reception in Denmark for the diplomatic corps. Photo: Ole Jensen- Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Joe Biden is poised to tap Rufus Gifford, a former ambassador to Denmark and LGBTQ advocate, as chief of protocol at the State Department, according to people familiar with the consideration.

Why it matters: In selecting Gifford for the high-profile role, Biden is opting for a diplomat and fundraiser who achieved celebrity status overseas to help repair relationships across the globe by showcasing the best of America at home.

The chief of protocol oversees not only State Department functions but also Blair House, the presidential guest house across from the White House. He or she routinely travels with the president, ensuring all formalities are arranged with foreign governments.

  • The chief's hand also is usually the first shaken by a dignitary upon arriving in the United States.
  • Gifford will also act as a liaison between the foreign diplomatic corps in Washington and the Biden administration.

Tapping Gifford for those honors also rewards a loyal campaign official.

  • The Massachusetts native was supportive of 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg, a fellow openly gay political figure, but Gifford endorsed Biden at a crucial time, when his campaign was lagging in January 2020.
  • Gifford received a Danish television award for a documentary series — "I am the Ambassador from America" — that he participated in while serving as ambassador.
  • His selection adds to the diversity Biden has promised for his Cabinet and other significant administration positions.

The big picture: Biden is filling out his diplomatic apparatus with Obama administration veterans.

  • He's tapped Tony Blinken, who previously served as State Department deputy secretary, to now serve as secretary of state.
  • He will nominate Wendy Sherman, who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, to serve as Blinken's deputy.
  • In addition, the president-elect is nominating Victoria Nuland, a longtime Foreign Service Officer and Obama-era veteran, to fill the State Department's powerful political affairs role.

The bottom line: Some congressional Democrats continue to call on Biden to nominate people of color in the upper ranks of the State Department.

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