WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his first slate of senior White House staff, choosing a mix of longtime Biden loyalists and rising Democratic stars.
The overall makeup of the top staff is notable for its lack of well-known progressives, suggesting that Biden intends to oversee a more cautious, traditional West Wing than some in the Democratic Party might have hoped.
Veteran Biden advisor Mike Donilon was named senior advisor to the president. Donilon served as Biden's chief strategist during the campaign.
Jen O'Malley Dillon, who managed Biden's victorious campaign, will serve as White House deputy chief of staff. O'Malley Dillon is a rare Biden insider who has not worked alongside the Bidens for decades. In 2019, she managed the failed presidential primary campaign of Biden's opponent, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke.
After joining the Biden campaign this spring, O'Malley Dillon maintained a low profile, and she focused almost entirely on recapturing the "blue wall" of Midwestern states that Trump flipped in 2016: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Biden won them all.
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond will be senior advisor to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Richmond was a trusted advisor and highly visible Biden surrogate during the campaign.
Insiders have described Richmond's role as similar to that of former White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who often served as a sounding board for President Barack Obama.
Former Biden campaign chairman Steve Ricchetti will be senior counselor to the president, the Biden team announced. Ricchetti is a career Democratic political aide who served as Biden's chief of staff during the Obama administration.
But it was Ricchetti's prior work as a health-care lobbyist that raised the ire of progressives during the Democratic primary race. They argued that Ricchetti was helping to craft health-care policies for Biden that were too friendly to his former drugmaker clients, a list that includes Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Novartis.
Biden came under pressure following his election not to name Ricchetti his White House chief of staff. Last week, Biden announced that longtime aide Ron Klain would serve as chief of staff.
Dana Remus, a former White House deputy counsel for ethics during the Obama administration, was named counsel to the president. Remus worked at the Obama Foundation and most recently served as general counsel to the Biden campaign.
There, Remus assembled the team of lawyers currently battling President Donald Trump's campaign in several state courts over voting procedures and ballot counting, part of Trump's last-resort legal effort to overturn the election results.
Remus' prior experience in the White House ethics office will likely help guide early decisions in the Biden administration about what kind of ethical guardrails it intends to erect to avoid conflicts of interest among political appointees.
Biden himself has pledged to maintain the highest ethical standards in his administration. But the question of whether former lobbyists will be hired to work at agencies they once lobbied on behalf of clients is a complicated and unresolved one for Biden.
Biden's director of intergovernmental affairs will be Julie Chavez Rodriguez, a former aide to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the granddaughter of labor leader Cesar Chavez. Rodriguez served as traveling chief of staff to Harris during her failed presidential primary campaign in 2019, accompanying Harris on a grueling schedule of campaign travel.
Before that, Rodriguez worked as the California state director in Harris' Senate office.
In the Biden White House, Rodriguez will oversee the administration's outreach efforts to state, county, local and tribal governments. After four years of limited interaction under Trump between the White House and state and local governments, Biden has made delivering financial aid to state and local governments a cornerstone of his plan to combat the coronavirus.
As a result, Rodriguez will likely occupy a more visible role in the White House than her predecessor, Douglas Hoelscher, did.
Annie Tomasini, a longtime member of Biden's inner circle and his traveling chief of staff on the campaign, will serve as director of Oval Office operations. The particulars of this role have often shifted based on who is in office at any given time, but what remains the same is that it's a powerful gatekeeper position with influence over the president's daily activities.
When Trump first took office in 2017, he named his longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller to be his director of Oval Office operations. Schiller left the administration just eight months later, but starting shortly after he left the White House, Schiller began collecting $15,000 a month, every month, from the Republican National Committee. As of August 2020, campaign finance records showed the RNC had paid Schiller over $500,000 for unspecified "security services."
The Biden-Harris transition team also made two announcements about incoming first lady Jill Biden's office on Tuesday.
Jill Biden's chief of staff will be Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon, a former ambassador to Uruguay during the Obama administration and a partner at law firm Winston & Strawn.
Jill Biden's longtime aide Anthony Bernal will become her senior advisor. Bernal first worked with Jill Biden during Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and later joined her staff in the White House. Most recently, Bernal served as chief of staff in Jill Biden's campaign office.
When Joe Biden takes office in January, Jill Biden is expected to become the only first lady ever to keep her day job, as an English teacher at a northern Virginia community college.
"I am proud to announce additional members of my senior team who will help us build back better than before," Biden said in a statement Tuesday about the senior staffing decisions.
"America faces great challenges, and they bring diverse perspectives and a shared commitment to tackling these challenges and emerging on the other side a stronger, more united nation," he said.