U.S. president-elect Joe Biden will have an all-female senior communications team at his White House, led by campaign communications director Kate Bedingfield.
Bedingfield will serve as Biden’s White House communications director. Jen Psaki, a longtime Democratic spokeswoman, will be his press secretary.
Biden also plans to name Neera Tanden, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank, as director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to a person familiar with the transition process granted anonymity to speak freely about internal deliberations.
All three are veterans of the Obama administration. Bedingfield served as communications director for Biden while he was vice-president; Psaki was a White House communications director and a spokesperson at the State Department; and Tanden served as a senior adviser to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and helped craft the Affordable Care Act.
“Communicating directly and truthfully to the American people is one of the most important duties of a President, and this team will be entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of connecting the American people to the White House,” Biden said in a statement.
“These qualified, experienced communicators bring diverse perspectives to their work and a shared commitment to building this country back better,” he added.
Karine Jean Pierre, who was vice-president-elect Kamala Harris’s chief of staff, will serve as a principal deputy press secretary for the president-elect. She’s another Obama administration alum, having served as a regional political director for the White House office of political affairs.
Pili Tobar, who was communications director for coalitions on Biden’s campaign, will be his deputy White House communications director. She most recently was deputy director for America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, and was a press staffer for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The transition also announced the appointment of three Biden campaign senior advisers to top communications roles. Ashley Etienne, a former communications director for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will serve as Harris’s communications director. Symone Sanders, another senior adviser on the Biden campaign, will be Harris’s senior adviser and chief spokesperson.
Elizabeth Alexander, who served as the former vice-president’s press secretary and his communications director while he was a U.S. senator from Delaware, will serve as Jill Biden’s communications director.
The hires reflect Biden’s stated desire to build out a diverse White House team – four of the seven top communications roles will be filled by women of colour, and it’s the first time the entire senior White House communications team has been entirely female.
But they also reflect what’s expected to be a return to a more traditional White House press operation, after President Donald Trump upended the ways in which his administration communicated with the press.
In contrast with the precedent set by administrations past, Trump’s communications team held few press briefings, and those that did occur were often combative affairs riddled with inaccuracies and falsehoods. Trump himself sometimes served as his own press secretary, taking questions from the media, and he often bypassed the White House press corps entirely by dialling into his favourite Fox News shows.
After his campaign went virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, Biden faced some of his own criticism for not being accessible to reporters. But near the end of the campaign, he answered questions from the press more frequently, and his transition team has held weekly briefings since he was elected president.
The choice of a number of Obama administration veterans – many with deep relationships with the Washington press corps – suggests a return to a more congenial relationship with the press.
Meanwhile at OMB, Tanden would be responsible for preparing Biden’s budget submission and would command several hundred budget analysts, economists and policy advisers with deep knowledge of the inner workings of the government.
Her choice may mollify progressives, who have been putting pressure on Biden to show his commitment to progressive priorities with his early staff appointments. She was chosen over more moderate voices with roots in the party’s anti-deficit wing such as Bruce Reed, who was staff director of President Barack Obama’s 2010 deficit commission, which proposed a set of politically painful recommendations that were never acted upon.
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