President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Susan Rice to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council, a surprising move that gives the longtime national security veteran major influence over Biden’s “build back better” agenda that is expected to focus on racial injustice, immigration, health care and combating the coronavirus pandemic.
Rice, 56, is a veteran foreign policy official who was former President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and later his national security adviser. Her move will elevate the profile of the Domestic Policy Council within Biden’s White House, installing a high-profile and influential Biden ally at the helm of what in previous administrations has been a lower-profile council. Politico was the first to report the decision.
Rice is set to join a list of prominent presidential advisers, including Democrat Leon Panetta and Republican James Baker, to work in both prominent foreign policy and domestic roles.
She was considered as Biden’s vice presidential running mate and for secretary of state. Her role in Biden’s White House means Rice will avoid what would have been a bruising Senate confirmation hearing.
The domestic role is an unexpected position for Rice, but many expected her to find a position in Biden’s Cabinet not just because of her experience, but also because of her close ties to the President-elect. Rice has a long friendship with Biden, who values personal relationships, and his wife Jill, and has written that the former vice president was her “favorite unannounced visitor.”
That closeness is seen as a factor in the President-elect’s decision to give Rice the job of handling some of the country’s most daunting political challenges.
But her tenure in the Obama administration was rocky at times and she carries political baggage that would have made a Senate-confirmed role – and the televised hearings that confirmation entails – a challenge. Republicans would likely use the opportunity to seize on the aftermath of the 2012 deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, a tragedy that Republicans weaponized against her.
Rice also became the target of an unfounded conspiracy, advanced at times by President Donald Trump and his top allies, that she had acted improperly during the 2016 election by “unmasking” – or revealing the identities of Americans who were communicating with foreign officials under surveillance by the US intelligence community – senior Trump campaign officials.
Rice told a House committee in 2017 that she “unmasked” the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York in late 2016. Top Republicans on the House intelligence panel have said Rice did not act improperly in unmasking the identities of senior Trump campaign officials.
The Stanford University-educated former Rhodes scholar has often been described as brilliant, but has also faced criticism for being abrasive and for running a National Security Council that didn’t cooperate well with other agencies.