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Biden hires all-female senior communications team, names director of OMB

Jen Psaki, former White House communications director, speaks during the Politicon convention inside the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, California, U.S., on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Jen Psaki, former White House communications director, speaks during the Politicon convention inside the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, California, U.S., on Saturday, July 29, 2017.Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

WILMINGTON, Del. - President-elect Joe Biden has filled out his economics and communications teams, enlisting mostly women, including several of color, in a move that reflected his campaign pledge to create an administration that presents a diverse face to America as it tackles twin pandemic and economic crises.

Biden is expected to nominate Neera Tanden, the chief executive of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, as director of the influential Office of Management and Budget, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the nominations freely. Tanden, whose parents emigrated from India, would be the first woman of color to oversee the agency.

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The president-elect also will appoint Princeton University labor economist Cecilia Rouse as chair of the three-member Council of Economic Advisers, with economists Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey serving as the other members. Rouse, who is African American, would be the first woman of color to chair the council, which plays a key role in advising the president on the economy, which has been ailing since the pandemic struck the country, throwing tens of millions out of work.

Biden earlier chose economist Janet Yellen to be his treasury secretary.

Jennifer Psaki, a veteran Democratic spokeswoman, will be Biden’s White House press secretary, one of seven women who will fill the upper ranks of his administration’s communications staff. It is the first time that all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be female.

Biden’s press team will be led by Kate Bedingfield, a longtime Biden aide who served as his campaign communications director and will hold the same title in his White House.

Taken together, the plans demonstrate the president-elect’s determination to bring in a more diverse leadership team than what Washington has seen in the past. The decisions also reflect the reality that women powered Biden’s victory through, among other contributions, record activism and political donations.

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Biden, 78, has frequently tried to use his political power to break barriers. His selection of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as a running mate will make her the first woman to be vice president, as well as the first Black person and first Asian American to hold that title. He has also pledged to name the first Black woman to the Supreme Court if he is able to fill a vacancy.

Biden’s operation decided to announce the women on the communications team as a group to signal that the various top administration offices will coordinate closely, said Anita Dunn, a top Biden campaign aide.

“They are a very cohesive group, with great strengths and diverse viewpoints,” Dunn said. “And a very strong team.”

The all-female team will bring women into a space often dominated by male voices. “The odds are very high that if it’s a story about the Biden administration, any aspect of it, at least one quote in the story will be from a woman,” Dunn said.

The communication team includes women with deep ties to Biden. Some worked on his presidential campaign, and others held top roles in the Obama administration. All have long track records in key Washington roles and promise to usher in a more stable era of White House communications.

“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.

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“These qualified, experienced communicators bring diverse perspectives to their work and a shared commitment to building this country back better,” he added.

Psaki, who did a stint as White House communications director under President Barack Obama, will become the face of the new Biden administration. She has been working on the transition team, and she has served as a spokeswoman for then-Secretary of State John Kerry, who will serve in the Biden administration as a special envoy for climate.

“When she steps to that mic, she brings not only a sense of gravitas, but fact, transparency and honesty, and even a sense of comfort,” said Minyon Moore, who is a member of the Biden-Harris transition advisory board.

Tanden was a close ally of Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, and helped pass the Affordable Care Act under Obama. Tanden will be under pressure from conservatives to rein in government spending but probably will play an instrumental role in crafting the Biden administration’s response to the current economic downturn.

Bernstein and Boushey served as close advisers to Biden during his presidential campaign. Rouse has spoken about the need for an urgent government response to the pandemic, while Bernstein and Boushey have also been outspoken in pushing Congress to approve a new stimulus package.

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Tanden in particular has extensive experience clashing with Republican lawmakers as a top Clinton surrogate. Bernstein, as one of Biden’s top economic aides during his time as vice president, was closely involved in the Obama administration’s stimulus package. Mike Konczal, an economic expert at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute think tank, tweeted that Biden’s choices all “understand how important executing the recovery and getting to full employment will be. . . . They’ll also have strong antibodies against cynical debt hysteria and conservative boilerplate.”

Brian Deese, who served as a senior economic official during the Obama administration, will be named the director of the White House National Economic Council, according to people familiar with the decision. Deese, whose position was first reported by The New York Times, has most recently served as a managing director at BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment firms.

Rounding out the White House press team will be Karine Jean-Pierre, a campaign adviser and former top official with the liberal group MoveOn, as principal deputy press secretary. Pili Tobar, who worked for America’s Voice, a liberal immigration policy group, and was a staffer for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will become deputy White House communications director.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s communications director will be Ashley Etienne, a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign who served as a communications director to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign, will become the chief spokeswoman to Harris.

“Our country is facing unprecedented challenges - from the coronavirus pandemic to the economic crisis, to the climate crisis, and a long-overdue reckoning over racial injustice,” Harris said in a statement. “To overcome these challenges, we need to communicate clearly, honestly, and transparently with the American people, and this experienced, talented, and barrier-shattering team will help us do that.”

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The head of the incoming East Wing communications team, who will work with Jill Biden, was also named: Elizabeth Alexander, a former campaign adviser who served as Biden’s spokeswoman when he was vice president. Before that, she was a federal prosecutor. Her title will be communications director for the first lady.

Although Biden has pledged to select senior White House staff and administration officials who reflect the United States, many of his closest advisers are men who have worked for him for years. Some have been selected for White House jobs, and others will remain part of his inner circle. “President-elect Biden has a history of advocating on behalf of women in the U.S. and around the world, and today’s announcement is a continuation of that work,” said Ron Klain, who will be Biden’s chief of staff. “They embody Joe Biden’s commitment to a diverse administration where the voices of all Americans are represented.”