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.
The president-elect will also 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 will play 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 named economist Janet Yellen as 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 all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be female.
Biden's team will be steered by Kate Bedingfield, a longtime Biden aide who was his campaign communications director and will hold the same title in his White House.
Taken together, the plans show 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 via, among other contributions, record activism and political donations.
Biden, 78, has frequently tried to use his political power to break barriers. His selection of Kamala D. Harris 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 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 instantly disrupt how journalists cover the administration — at a time when men's views still typically dominate political and government coverage. "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 women leading Biden’s press operation all have forged ties to the president-elect, with some getting to know him by working on the presidential campaign and others having held top roles in the Obama administration. Their long track records in key Washington roles 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.
“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 also served as a spokeswoman for then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who will serve in the Biden administration as a special envoy for climate. She will lead the media affairs operation while Bedingfield will take point with communications.
“When she [Psaki] 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.
Current White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, using her personal Twitter account, attacked The Washington Post — which first reported Biden’s all-female communications team — saying that President Trump, Vice President Pence and first lady Melania Trump also have senior female press aides.
“The completely DISCREDITED @washingtonpost once again reveals their blinding propagandist Fake News proclivities,” she wrote, with a link to the article, titled “Biden chooses an all-female senior White House press team.”
Unlike the team that Biden has chosen, Trump’s communications staff includes spokesmen who are regularly quoted, including Judd Deere, the White House deputy press secretary, and Brian Morganstern, the White House deputy communications director. Pence’s spokesman is Devin O’Malley.
Other Republicans focused their ire on Tanden, who will need to be approved by the Senate to take on her job. Drew Brandewie, the communications director for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), said via Twitter that she “faces zero chance of being confirmed” because of her critiques of GOP senators.
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 will probably 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.
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 also 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 reform group, and was a staffer for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), will become deputy White House communications director.
Vice President-elect 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 former senior adviser to Biden’s campaign, will become Harris’s chief spokeswoman.
“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.”
The head of the incoming East Wing communications team, who will work with Jill Biden, was also named: Elizabeth E. 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.
Though Biden has pledged to select senior White House staff members and administration officials who reflect America, 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 kitchen cabinet.
“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.”