Biden reunites familiar Obama administration figures at press briefings
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It was a scene that could have taken place five to 10 years ago.
Susan Rice, along with Jen Psaki, led a White House briefing on the president’s steps to advance "racial justice and equity."
White House Domestic Policy Adviser Susan Rice speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Rice, Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and later national security adviser, is now the new president’s Domestic Policy Council director. And Psaki, the Obama White House communications director and State Department spokesperson, is now White House press secretary.
"What this signifies is a return to expertise and a return to experience," emphasized Fox News contributor Mo Elleithee, the founding executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service.
Pointing to the coronavirus – the worst pandemic in a century – and the economic devastation triggered by the virus, Elleithee said that Biden "at a really critical time is bringing people back to government who know what they’re doing"
If it feels like déjà vu in the executive branch right now, it is – as many top officials from the Obama years now have prominent positions in the Biden White House and administration.
New White House chief of staff Ron Klain served as Biden’s first chief of staff when he was vice president under Obama, and later oversaw the White House response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic.
Newly confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken served as Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration.
Former Sen. John Kerry, who served as secretary of state during Obama’s second term, has been named as special envoy on climate. He is also appearing in the briefing room with Psaki -- along with another past Obama administration official Gina McCarthy -- on Wednesday to discuss the climate.
Samantha Power, who was Obama's ambassador to the United Nations and earlier on his National Security Council, has been named as the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. And Wendy Sherman, who led negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal, is Biden’s nominee for deputy secretary of state.
Need more examples: Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who spent eight years as Obama’s Agriculture secretary, has been nominated to return to his old Cabinet position. And Biden nominated Obama Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to return to his old position as the nation’s top doctor.
Obama White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has been nominated to serve as secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs. Janet Yellen, who served as chair of the Federal Reserve during Obama’s second term, was confirmed this week as treasury secretary. Neera Tanden, who held a senior role at Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, has been nominated by Biden to serve as Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director. And Jeff Zients, who was acting OMB director and a top economic adviser in the Obama White House, is now Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator.
We could go on, but you get the idea.
"It makes sense to go to the last Democratic administration and pulling people who’ve been in the trenches. The last Democratic administration was only four years [ago]. It makes sense to pull them back in, many of them in elevated roles from where they were last time and mix them in with some new people," noted Elleithee, a senior spokesman for Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign who later served as communications director for the Democratic National Committee.
He emphasized that the moves show Biden’s "commitment to bringing in people who know what they’re doing at a time when we really need people who know what they’re doing."
But veteran GOP strategist Colin Reed said there could be a political price to pay.
"If you at the first six months of the Obama presidency, they made decisions that came back to hurt them come the next midterms. They just got shellacked," Reed spotlighted.
And he warned, "If past is prologue, using the exact team that led you down the plank and into a Democratic slaughter in the next midterms. Those who ignore the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them."
It’s not just Republicans taking aim at Biden’s choices for top administration roles. Some of the progressive left have also been skeptical.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the progressive champion and Biden’s top rival during the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries who in November made no secret of his desire to be named labor secretary, said last month that he wanted to see more progressives in the new administration.
"I believe that the progressive movement deserves seats in the Cabinet; that has not yet happened," Sanders said on ABC’s "This Week" in late December.
A week later, Biden named Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his labor secretary nominee.