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Joe Biden and Keisha Lance Bottoms meet privately Tuesday after the president-elect spoke at a rally in Atlanta for Georgia's two Senate runoff election candidates. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden implored Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to accept a job heading the Small Business Administration earlier this week, a lesser position she rejected after he characterized it as “only the first step” for her during his presidency, according to people familiar with the discussion.

Why it matters: Biden has pledged to build a Cabinet reflecting America's diversity, but as the number of marquee slots has dwindled — and various constituencies keep clamoring for their own representatives — he is having trouble threading the political needle.

  • Lance Bottoms, a rising African American star and favorite of powerful Rep. James Clyburn, is open to serving in the Cabinet during his term if the role is right, one person told Axios.

Background: Bottoms’ allies describe her as a family-oriented politician — she has four young children — who’s weighing the massive lifestyle change a move to Washington, D.C. would require against the nature of the work she'd be undertaking.

  • While interested in small business development, leading a Cabinet-level agency like SBA was not the right fit for the chief executive of a major city — a position of considerable clout in the New South that Lance Bottoms loves, one person familiar with her thinking told Axios.
  • The Biden transition did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Driving the news: Biden privately met face-to-face with Lance Bottoms when he visited Georgia on Tuesday to campaign for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the two Democratic candidates in pivotal Jan. 5 runoff elections that could flip the Senate majority.

  • During the rally in Atlanta, during which Lance Bottoms sat on stage, Biden said, "Let’s hear it for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the best in the business. Had my back early in this whole deal."
  • Their one-on-one meeting was under an hour and initiated by Biden. It took place outside after the rally, behind the stage.
  • The two had been on stage with Ossoff, Warnock and Stacey Abrams. When the rally finished, Abrams, Warnock and Ossoff were ushered in one direction —and the president-elect and Bottoms in another.
  • While Biden tried to sell SBA to Bottoms as a stepping stone to greater aspirations — he characterized the role as "only the first step" for her on his team — but Bottoms declined, as she had previously to his representatives, one person said.
  • Despite talk that Lance Bottoms had also turned down the ambassadorship to the Bahamas, the SBA job is the only position she’s been offered so far, one person close to the mayor told Axios.
  • This person said Bottoms’ options for a career beyond mayor are open, and hinted at a potential statewide race in her future, depending on how Georgia's Senate and gubernatorial contests shake out.

Lance Bottoms is viewed as a rising star within the Democratic Party, presiding over a large city that’s been rocked by COVID and racial injustice this past year.

  • Biden considered her as his running mate before settling on Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
  • Lance Bottoms also is close to Clyburn, the Democrat who helped deliver pivotal South Carolina for Biden. Clyburn advocated for Lance Bottoms as Biden's running mate, casting her as a “tremendous” pick.

Be smart: Lance Bottoms also was seen as a good candidate to serve as secretary of Housing and Urban Development because of her work leading the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ efforts on the census and housing policy.

  • Biden picked Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who had the strong backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, for that Cabinet job.

Go deeper

Bush labels Clyburn the “savior” for Democrats

House Majority Whip James Clyburn takes a selfie Wednesday with former President George W. Bush. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush credited Rep. James Clyburn with being the "savior" of the Democratic Party, telling the South Carolinian at Wednesday's inauguration his endorsement allowed Joe Biden to win the party's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: The nation's last two-term Republican president also said Clyburn's nod allowed for the transfer of power, because he felt only Biden had the ability to unseat President Trump.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
35 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Report: John Kerry plans to visit China ahead of Biden's climate summit

John Kerry. Photo: Zach Gibson / Stringer

John Kerry, President Biden's special climate envoy, is expected to travel to China next week for meetings with officials aimed at boosting collaboration, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

Why it matters: China is the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter and the U.S. is second-largest.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

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