US President-elect Joe Biden has named Susan Rice as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, giving her broad sway over his administration’s approach to immigration, healthcare and racial inequality and elevating the prominence of the position in the West Wing.
The move marks a surprising shift for Rice, a longtime Democratic foreign policy expert who served as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and UN ambassador. She worked closely with then-Vice President Biden in those roles and was on a shortlist to become his running mate during the 2020 campaign.
Rice gained her fair share of critics in the Washington pro-Israel establishment for her harsh criticism of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. As national security adviser, she was the person who called then-ambassador to the UN Samantha Power in December 2016, instructing her to not veto a Security Council resolution condemning settlements.
Yet at the 2016 American Jewish Committee Global Forum Rice highlighted her “battle every day [as ambassador at the UN] to defend Israel from a drumbeat of hostility.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations honored her with their National Service Award in 2011 for her efforts.
Rice had an often combative relationship with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a 2015 book from Dennis Ross, an adviser to Obama on Mideast affairs.
In the book, Ross accused Rice of mismanaging the US-Israel relationship, and not keeping Jerusalem up to date on the status of Iran nuclear talks.
“In her view, the Israeli leader did everything but ‘use the N-word in describing the president,’” Ross wrote.
Biden also nominated Denis McDonough, who was Obama’s White House chief of staff, as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a sprawling agency that has presented organizational challenges for both parties over the years.
In selecting Rice and McDonough, Biden continued to stockpile his administration with prominent members of the Obama administration. He will make the formal announcements Friday, along with his nominations of Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Katherine Tai as US trade representative and Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary. Vilsack filled that same role during Obama’s two terms.