WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. named two senior officers from the Obama White House to key jobs on Thursday, placing Susan Rice, a former nationwide safety adviser, accountable for his Domestic Policy Council and nominating President Barack Obama’s chief of employees, Denis McDonough, to be secretary of veterans affairs.
Both selections got here as surprises, significantly the choice to place a lifelong nationwide safety skilled like Ms. Rice right into a high home coverage job. At the identical time, they mirror Mr. Biden’s want to populate the higher ranges of his incoming administration with folks he is aware of properly, and with whom he has labored carefully prior to now.
The appointment of Ms. Rice additionally helps Mr. Biden meet his dedication to range by putting in a Black girl in a White House submit with main affect over a variety of federal insurance policies, from training to well being care to racial fairness.
Like Ms. Rice, Mr. McDonough, who if confirmed will take over the Department of Veterans Affairs, a politically vital company lengthy identified for dysfunction and scandal, has a nationwide safety background. He served as a overseas coverage aide on Capitol Hill after which as President Barack Obama’s deputy nationwide safety adviser earlier than turning into his chief of employees.
During the Obama administration, each Mr. McDonough and Ms. Rice spent numerous hours with Mr. Biden, then the vp, within the Oval Office and the Situation Room. People aware of their choice stated the president-elect sees them each as tenacious managers with a deep understanding of the federal paperwork.
Ms. Rice’s friendship with Mr. Biden led to hypothesis that he would select her as his operating mate, however he picked Senator Kamala Harris of California as a substitute.
Though Mr. McDonough’s choice was surprising, former colleagues stated he took an intense curiosity in navy households through the Obama administration, in addition to the infamous case backlog on the sprawling division that manages well being care and different advantages for veterans. He additionally traveled recurrently to fight zones, and sometimes visited with wounded troopers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Mr. McDonough’s spouse, Kari, is the co-founder and president of a company that assists veterans reintegrating into their communities.
“If you know Denis McDonough, there is nothing at all surprising about the idea that the V.A. would literally be the guy’s dream government position,” stated Ben Rhodes, a deputy nationwide safety adviser within the Obama White House. “He’s animated by veterans’ issues in a way that he’s not animated by anything else, including national security issues.”
Mr. Rhodes recalled many situations when he would “round a turn in the West Wing at like 9 p.m. on a Tuesday and the guy was giving a tour to 10 wounded warriors.”
Mr. McDonough, 51, can be simply the second chief of the Department of Veterans Affairs because it supplanted the Veterans Administration in 1989 not to have served within the navy. The different was President Trump’s first secretary, David Shulkin, whom the Senate confirmed by unanimous consent.
The appointment of Ms. Rice, 56, was a good higher shock. Many longtime home coverage specialists throughout the Democratic Party complained privately on Thursday that Mr. Biden had handed over candidates with direct expertise on points like training and the economic system.
A graduate of Stanford and a Rhodes scholar, Ms. Rice joined President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council employees in 1993 and went on to grow to be an assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She returned to authorities below Mr. Obama, first as his ambassador to the United Nations after which as nationwide safety adviser, a job she held for 4 years.
After leaving authorities with the election of Mr. Trump, Ms. Rice turned a contributing opinion author for The New York Times for 3 years. Her final column for The Times was printed on Dec. 1.
She has twice been a finalist for secretary of state, first below Mr. Obama and extra just lately as Mr. Biden assembled his nationwide safety staff. But she was twice handed over, partially due to concern over a doubtlessly bloody affirmation combat.
Republicans focused Ms. Rice for feedback she made shortly after the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, downplaying terrorism as a motive. In an election yr, they turned the assault into a serious political subject, singling out her and Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state. Allies of Ms. Rice stated she was the sufferer of smears and discrimination and famous that congressional inquiries discovered no wrongdoing on her half.
Ms. Rice’s new place doesn’t require Senate affirmation. In an announcement asserting her appointment, Mr. Biden’s transition staff stated that she “knows government inside and out and will carry through the president-elect’s vision of a newly empowered Domestic Policy Council and turbocharge the effort to build back better.”
Established in 1993, the Domestic Policy Council — very like its nationwide safety counterpart that Ms. Rice managed — coordinates home policymaking throughout the federal authorities, except the various financial issues overseen by the National Economic Council.
The Presidential Transition
Mr. Rhodes stated that Ms. Rice had labored extensively as nationwide safety adviser on points that straddled the overseas and home realms through the Obama administration, together with a flood of migrant households on the southern American border and an Ebola outbreak in Africa. “National security and domestic lines have been blurred,” significantly for the reason that introduction of the coronavirus, positive to be certainly one of her high priorities, he stated.
Melody Barnes, who led the Domestic Policy Council below Mr. Obama, stated Ms. Rice had the important bureaucratic know-how required to run the physique successfully and famous that she can be supported by a formidable employees of specialists.
“She’s an intellectual powerhouse,” Ms. Barnes stated. “She has extensive government experience and knows how to manage a process, and work with departments and agencies, which is an essential part of the director’s job.”
Ms. Rice comes from a household of home coverage lovers. Her mom, Lois Rice, was an training coverage professional typically referred to as “the mother of the Pell grant” due to her key lobbying position behind the federal faculty subsidy created in 1965.
A pioneering Black girl in authorities, Ms. Rice additionally has a eager subject in racial justice. Ms. Barnes famous that the Domestic Policy Council would play a central position in Mr. Biden’s efforts to advance racial fairness.
A tour of obligation in home affairs might additionally assist place Ms. Rice for a future run for workplace. She just lately contemplated a run for Senate in Maine, a state the place she has household roots, and was a finalist to grow to be Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential operating mate.
Like Ms. Rice, Mr. McDonough, a graduate of St. John’s University in Minnesota and the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, is called a demanding, hard-nosed supervisor impatient with confusion and delay. If confirmed, he’ll oversee a division whose huge dimension is matched solely by its seemingly intractable issues.
It is the federal government’s second-largest division, with round 375,000 staff and a finances of greater than $200 billion that funds a troubled well being care system that underwent immense pressure after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Biden’s hope is that Mr. McDonough can apply the administration acumen he developed as chief of employees to making the troubled division extra environment friendly and efficient.
During the Obama administration, officers at a Phoenix medical heart had been discovered to have manipulated information regarding lengthy wait instances for veterans that will have led to affected person deaths. That led to the departure of Eric Shinseki, the secretary on the time, and Mr. McDonough helped shepherd laws to give veterans entry to care outdoors the division’s system.
Mr. Rhodes stated Mr. McDonough turned “obsessed” with cruelly lengthy wait instances for well being care and made it a high precedence when he served as chief of employees.
Mr. Trump put the troubled division on the heart of his personal political agenda, and pushed laborious to develop veterans’ entry to non-public care. His most up-to-date secretary, Robert L. Wilkie, shunned conventional veterans organizations and lots of lawmakers in favor of conservative teams that championed non-public care, notably Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group with ties to the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.
The division turned deeply politicized and confronted extra issues brought on by an costly digital medical information system, the rollout of its expanded neighborhood care program and an inspector common’s report extremely essential of Mr. Wilkie’s dealing with of a reported sexual assault case at a division hospital.
In an announcement, Will Fischer, a senior adviser to the liberal veterans’ group VoteVets, acknowledged that few had seen Mr. McDonough’s choice coming. “Some may say this pick is unexpected and out of left field,” he stated, however referred to as the selection “a grand slam.”
“What the V.A. needs, more than anything, is an experienced manager, with deep depth of knowledge about how the agency works, how it interacts with other agencies and how to quickly build the agency back, even better,” he stated.
Mr. Biden plans to introduce Mr. McDonough and Ms. Rice at a public occasion in Wilmington, Del., on Friday afternoon.
Michael D. Shear, Jennifer Steinhauer and Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.