Politics

Former Obama advisor Susan Rice emerges as a serious contender for Joe Biden's VP pick

Key Points
  • Susan Rice, a former national security advisor, has emerged as a leading contender to become the running mate of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
  • Rice also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama.
  • She has stated that defeating the Republican President Donald Trump is a top priority, along with helping Democrats regain control of the Senate and maintain their majority in the House.
Susan Rice, former U.S. national security advisor.
Christopher Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Susan Rice might not be explicitly saying that she wants to be presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's running mate — but the former national security advisor hasn't been shy about suggesting she's more than ready, willing and qualified to fill that role if he wants her.

"Bring that one on, that's all I'll say," Rice told radio show host Ricky Smiley last week when he commented on how happy he would be if she ended up debating Vice President Mike Pence.

And after noting the strengths of other women being considered by Biden, Rice said that in terms of her own strengths, "if I can put it that way, is that I have served in the executive branch in the White House. At the top levels of the federal government for almost two decades."

"I know how to make things work and how to get stuff done," she told Smiley.

Rice, who served in the Obama administration as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and then as national security advisor, indeed has a long, impressive foreign policy resume.

Before holding the senior-level posts, Rice, a Stanford grad, had a four-year stint in the mid-1990s on the National Security Council during the administration of President Bill Clinton, and then spent Clinton's second term as the assistant secretary of State for African Affairs.

Rice's foreign policy chops — and her two-decade history of working and dealing with Biden when he was a U.S. senator and President Barack Obama's vice president — in the past alone would have made her a legitimate contender for the role as Biden's running mate. 

Rice is the only person on the vice presidential short list who has spent hundreds of hours in person with Biden, who places a premium on trust and personal rapport on his list of running mate VP qualifications.

In recent weeks, the 55-year-old Rice has come to be considered among the front-runners for that position. 

Biden has said he will select a woman to be the vice presidential candidate, and on Tuesday said that he plans to announce his choice in the first week of August.

Amid the dramatic public response to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, Biden has shown an unprecedented willingness to consider several Black women — Rice among them — for the role. Rice's late father, Emmett Rice, in 1979 became the second Black person ever appointed to the Federal Reserve board.

"I don't know that there's another African American woman in the country, or any woman other than maybe Hillary Clinton, who has the stripes that she has on foreign policy," House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., told The Atlantic, after giving Biden a list of potential VP picks that included Rice.

Rice was not available for an interview with CNBC.

But a person close to her said: "She's not campaigning for anything."

"This has never been about her," the source said. "As she herself has said, she's focused on helping elect Joe Biden in November because she believes it is essential to America's future that we defeat Donald Trump."

One potential mark against Rice in a checklist of qualifications for vice president is the fact she has never run for, much less held, elective office, unlike the other women being considered by Biden as a running mate.

While Rice had suggested in a 2018 Twitter post that she would challenge Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, she never followed through on that.

The last major-party vice presidential nominee who never previously held elective office was Sargent Shriver, who was Democratic nominee Sen. George McGovern's running mate in 1972. 

Shriver was the first director of the Peace Corps. He also served as President Lyndon Johnson's director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and then as President Richard Nixon's ambassador to France.

But Shriver was an anomaly in several respects.

He happened to be a brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy and his two senator brothers, Robert and Edward Kennedy, at a time when the Kennedy name was close to sacrosanct in the Democratic Party. Shriver also was tapped as the second running mate for McGovern after then-Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri dropped off the ticket following revelations that he had undergone electroshock treatment for depression.

Rice told The New York Times in an interview this week, "It is true I have never run for office on my own behalf, but I've run for office on behalf of others."

"If I were to decide to do it, there's nothing about it that on its face would feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar," said Rice, who currently is a distinguished visiting research fellow at American University's School of International Service.

Last fall, she published a New York Times best-selling memoir, "Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For."

In addition to Rice's lack of elective office experience, at least one item on her resume, serving as U.N. ambassador in 2012 when four U.S. compound staffers were killed in Benghazi, Libya, also might weigh against her with some voters.

The Benghazi attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, has been a hobby horse for Republican criticism of Rice, as well as of Hillary Clinton, who was Obama's secretary of State at the time.

Rice was accused by GOP members of Congress of misleading the public by stating, in news interviews days after the attack, that it was "a spontaneous reaction" to demonstrations against the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, which themselves were prompted by outrage against an anti-Muslim film.

It later emerged that the attack in Benghazi was coordinated by an Islamic militant group.

Rice had relied on a CIA assessment for her claim and had noted in news interviews that it was based on preliminary information.

Obama defended her from critics of her statement.

But months later, she withdrew her name from consideration as Clinton's successor as secretary of State, citing the need to avoid a "very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting" Senate confirmation process.

Another factor that could weigh against the Rhodes Scholar is her reputation for being blunt in dealings with others.

A number of news profiles of Rice have used the terms "sharp elbows" and "brusque" to describe her. 

When asked about those characterizations, the source close to Rice said, "We would not even be having this conversation if she were a man."

"I mean, nobody is disputing Ambassador Rice's effectiveness or integrity," the source said. "The fact is, she has always been about getting results for the American people."

VIDEO3:1603:16
College-educated white women have become strongly anti-Trump

Rice herself, in news interviews, has pointed to her foreign policy positions and her work for other candidates as selling points that would make her valuable to Biden, specifically as his running mate.

"Joe Biden needs to make the decision as to who he thinks will be his best running mate, and I will do my utmost, drawing on my experience of years in government, years of making the bureaucracy work," Rice told NBC News' "Meet The Press" recently.

"I've worked on multiple campaigns, presidential campaigns. I've been on the campaign trail as a surrogate, and I'm going to do everything I can to help get Joe Biden elected and to help him succeed as president, whether I'm his running mate or I'm a door knocker," she said.

She also said, "I just want to get Joe Biden elected and see the Democrats control the Senate and retain the House because ... we are at a moment where our democracy is at stake, where our leadership role in the world is at stake, where the lives of tens of thousands of Americans are on the line, lost to incompetence and callous leadership that could care less. We've got to change that."

In another interview, with Roland Martin's "Unfiltered Daily Digital Show," Rice said, "My experience and what I would bring to a partnership with Joe Biden on behalf of the country is my years of experience in senior levels in the executive branch."

"So what I know is how to make decisions to forge policy out of different agencies with different budgets and different interests and  constraints, how to get stuff done," Rice told Martin.

If Rice is tapped as Biden's running mate, there is sure to be renewed attention paid to her son, John David Rice-Cameron, one of the two children she has with her husband, former ABC News executive producer Ian Cameron. Their daughter is Maris Rice-Cameron.

Multiple news stories in 2018 noted that John David Rice-Cameron at the time was serving as president of the Stanford University College Republicans Club and was a strong supporter of Trump.

"My mother and I have a great relationship, and my mother believes strongly in the free and respectful exchange of ideas," Rice-Cameron told Fox News in a 2018 interview.

"We disagree on most of the standard Republican/Democrat disagreements," he told the outlet. "However, we agree that America is the greatest nation the world has ever seen, and thus, we believe that America has an important role to play as a force for liberty and justice on the world stage."