Biden selects Susan Rice to lead Domestic Policy Council, McDonough for Veterans Affairs

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President-elect Joe Biden has selected Susan Rice, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council, and is nominating Denis McDonough as secretary of Veterans Affairs, the transition announced on Thursday.

“The roles they will take on are where the rubber meets the road — where competent and crisis-tested governance can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, enhancing the dignity, equity, security, and prosperity of the day-to-day lives of Americans,” Biden said in the statement.

Rice also previously served as national security adviser during the Obama administration, and will now direct the Domestic Policy Council, a unit with broad purview over Biden’s domestic agenda, including health, immigration and education policy. The role does not require Senate confirmation.

McDonough, who served as deputy national security adviser and later White House chief of staff under former President Obama, will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in order to lead the sprawling Department of Veterans Affairs, an agency that has for years attracted public scrutiny as a result of management issues.

McDonough received swift praise from Democrats. Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called McDonough an “outstanding pick to lead the VA.”

“Denis is a principled, professional patriot and a great supporter of veterans. A former White House Chief of Staff, he is a distinguished public servant who brings the experience, skill, and leadership to be effective in this new post,” Reed said in a statement.

McDonough’s appointment came as a relative surprise. Others in the mix for the position included Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Bob McDonald, the former VA secretary under Obama. McDonough will be only the second non-veteran to hold the post if he is confirmed, after David Shulkin, who served as President Trump’s first VA secretary.

Biden also officially announced other appointments and nominations, including Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) as his nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Katherine Tai, a trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, as his nominee for U.S. trade representative; and Tom Vilsack as his nominee to serve as secretary of Agriculture, a role that Vilsack will reprise from his time serving in the Obama administration. 

The announcements of Rice and McDonough in particular underscore the degree to which Biden is leaning on officials with deep experience who worked with one another during the Obama administration.

Rice had also been viewed as a leading contender for Biden’s secretary of State, a nomination that ultimately went to Antony Blinken, a longtime adviser with deep foreign policy experience who served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Rice was also viewed as a potential running mate for Biden before his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is now vice president-elect. 

Biden has periodically announced members of his White House staff and intended Cabinet, beginning with his national security and economic teams. This week he announced his health team, including his nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

On Wednesday, Biden introduced retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as his nominee for Defense secretary, thought there are questions over his ability to be confirmed due to his need for a waiver to serve in what is considered a civilian position.

Biden has been under tremendous pressure to appoint women and people of color to top roles in his White House and Cabinet. Tai would be the first Asian American and first woman of color to serve as U.S. trade representative if she is confirmed. 

There are a handful of Cabinet positions and top roles Biden has yet to fill, most prominent among them attorney general and CIA director. Biden is said to be considering outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones (D), federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) as candidates to lead the Justice Department. 

Meanwhile, President Trump continues to refuse to concede the election despite unsuccessful efforts in court to challenge voting procedures.

Trump has falsely claimed he won the election and that it was “rigged” against him, despite a lack of evidence supporting his assertions of widespread voter fraud. Despite the lack of proof, Trump suggested on Twitter Thursday morning that Biden would be an “illegitimate president,” a tweet that was marked as containing disputed information.

Updated at 4:11 p.m.

Tags Antony Blinken Biden transition Cabinet David Shulkin Denis McDonough Department of Veterans Affairs Deval Patrick Donald Trump doug jones Jack Reed Joe Biden Lloyd Austin Marcia Fudge Merrick Garland nominee Sally Yates Senate confirmation Tammy Duckworth Tom Vilsack Xavier Becerra

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