Senator Elizabeth Warren named a new chief of staff on Thursday, changing up her office ahead of a possible presidential run and making it one of only a handful in the Senate to be led by a person of color.
Anne Reid, a senior adviser to Warren who worked previously for the Obama administration and as a Democratic committee staffer on Capitol Hill, is set to begin in the role when the 116th Congress opens next week.
Reid, who is black, joined Warren’s office earlier in the fall. She has a background in public health, having served as a counselor to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the final secretary of Health and Human Services during Obama’s presidency. Before she joined the administration, she was part of the professional staff of the Energy and Commerce Committee, where she became the top Democratic staffer on public health agencies and related issues.
“Anne’s experience serving our country and working to improve the health and well-being of millions of Americans will be invaluable as we continue our fights to level the playing field,” Warren said in a statement.
The staff transition comes as Warren mulls a run for the presidency in 2020. In September, she told voters at a town hall event she planned to take a “hard look” at running for president after the midterms, when she handily won reelection to a second term. Since the midterms, her campaign team has been looking for headquarters space in Boston and reaching out to political and grass-roots leaders in early primary states.
Reid will replace Warren’s longtime chief of staff, Dan Geldon, who moved over to Warren’s campaign full time earlier this fall. He is expected to serve as her campaign manager or in another senior role if she decides to run. Geldon, who met Warren when she was his professor at Harvard Law School, has been a key adviser to the senator for more than a decade.
Geldon is not the only member of Warren’s staff to move into a campaign role recently. Roger Lau, Warren’s former state director, moved over to her Senate campaign at the end of last year and was replaced by Nikko Mendoza, who will stay on as that role in the new Congress. Jonathan Donenberg, who was serving as Warren’s acting chief of staff, is expected to move over to the campaign, as well.
Although Reid is not on Warren’s campaign team, her appointment is a sign the senator is taking the diversity of her staff seriously. Earlier this year, Warren faced criticism for releasing the results of a DNA test she took to address President Trump’s taunts that she had lied about her claims of having distant Native American heritage. Some progressives were put off by her linking genetic science with ethnicity and wondered if there was enough diversity in her inner circle of advisers to warn against such a move.
The issue of staff diversity will likely matter in a Democratic primary, in which voters of color are expected to be critical. Nonwhite voters made up more than a quarter of the 2018 midterm electorate, according to exit polls. According to the Senate Democrats Diversity Initiative, about 36 percent of Warren’s Senate staff was nonwhite as of June, placing her in the middle of the pack of 2020 contenders in the Senate on that metric. But she has been known for having people of color in high-level positions, including Tracey Lewis as deputy campaign manager in 2012 and Chris Huntley, who became her speechwriter earlier this year.
“Having a diverse team is going to be one of the most important things in this presidential primary,” said Chuck Rocha, the founder of Solidarity Strategies and a former adviser for Bernie Sanders. “Black women, Latinos have been constantly attacked, and people are sick of it. Diversity is going to be huge.”
Warren has made outreach to black voters a priority as she gears up for the possible presidential run., branding the criminal justice system as “racist” in a panel in August, unveiling legislation intended in part to boost homeownership among minorities, and denouncing a system rigged against black people in a commencement address to students at Morgan State University, a historically black institution, earlier this month.
Reid will be one of the few black chiefs of staff in the Senate, reflecting a larger problem with staff diversity on Capitol Hill. In 2015, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that out of more than 300 top Senate staffers in 2015, only three were black. Senator Doug Jones, of Alabama, is the only other Democratic senator with a black chief of staff.