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Political Note #351   Joe Biden reaching out to America

2020                            Governing

Joe Biden reaching out to America

 Our country experienced an attack on its core democratic institution, the United States Congress, different from anything previously experienced.  Except, perhaps, for the attack on Fort Sumter which began the Civil War.  Americans attacked the US Congress in an attempt to prevent Congress from counting the ballots that elected a new President of the United States. Members of this insurrection threatened to hang the Vice President of the United States, if they could find him, for refusing to comply with the President’s expectation that he reject votes from states that supported his opponent.  The audit proposed by most Republican Members of the House of Representatives and some Senators appears to have had the same purpose – delay and then somehow transform the electoral college votes so that the Donald Trump has a majority.

For the most part, these Notes will not focus on the insurrection.  Like Joe Biden, the Notes will focus on the creation of his and our government, the upcoming elections of 2021 and 2022, as well as issues of import.

 =Today’s Note is about the people through whom Joe Biden will be communicating to the public, to interest groups, and to Congress.  The United States of America is an enormous country.  The President has to reach 330 million people in a variety of ways.  The eight people described below are the most visible of those who will reach out on Joe Biden’s behalf.

Director, Office of Public Engagement

Cedric Richmond

This Office coordinates outreach to the public.   At its best, the speaking engagements of members of the administration to various groups are also opportunities to listen to the American people.  Cedric Richmond has been a Member of Congress from Louisiana, the only Democrat in the delegation, for ten years.  He was born and grew up in New Orleans.  His dad died when he was seven; his mother was a teacher.  He received his BA from Morehouse, his JD from Tulane. At Morehouse, he was a star pitcher.

In Congress, Cedric Richmond defended hanging a painting by a constituent which depicted police, looking like pigs, making an arrest in the capitol. Usually, though, he was not confrontational.  He worked with Republicans and sometimes defended them.  He defended a Republican member of the Louisiana delegation embarrassed in an adultery scandal as having been subjected to a gotcha moment.  A recipient of fossil fuel campaign support from a state which gets 25% of its revenue from the fossil fuel industry, he was one of the few Democrats to vote for the Keystone Pipeline.

Cedric Richmond has been Co-Chair of Joe Biden’s transition team.  He is a close ally of House Majority Whip and South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn.  Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress, the man whose endorsement of Joe Biden for President transformed Biden’s candidacy, and the proponent of delaying sending Impeachment documentation to the Senate should Donald Trump be impeached again.  The proposed delay would allow Joe Biden 100 days to present and pass the most urgent parts of his agenda without the distraction of a Senate trial.

Cedric Richmond will be the highest ranking African American advisor to the President.   He has said he would be working to reach people who “didn’t vote for us.”  That attitude won’t change even as Democrats control both Houses of Congress by narrow margins.

Richmond’s interest in higher office in Louisiana will be encouraged by an African American winning a Senate seat in Georgia.   The Forty-seven year-old Richmond will maintain his Louisiana connections.

 Press Secretary

Jen Psaki

The White House Press Secretary is the most visible spokesperson for the President. The Press Secretary has intermediaries – the media.  The President reaches the country, to some large extent, through the Press Secretary and the print and electronic media like television that interacts with her.  Successful Press Secretaries gain the trust of the press and media which is reluctant to trust government officials.   Jen Psaki, like every President’s Press Secretary, has a tough job.

Forty-two years, Jen Psaki is a product of one of New York’s most prosperous suburbs.  She grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Her dad was a real estate developer; her mother a psychotherapist.  From Greenwich High School, she went to the College of William and Mary where she was a competitive swimmer and graduated in 2000.

She went directly into politics – working in Iowa for Democratic Senator Tom Harkin running for reelection and Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack (named to be Agriculture Secretary by Joe Biden) also running for reelection.  She was Deputy Press Secretary for John Kerry in his 2004 Presidential run. In between the Kerry and the Obama Presidential races, she was press secretary for Congressman Joe Crowley of New York (a familiar name because he was ousted in a primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).   She was Barack Obama’s traveling press secretary in the 2008 campaign. Except for a one-year hiatus at a private public relations firm, she remained with President Obama for his entire presidency – as Deputy Press Secretary and Communications Director after serving as Deputy.

During the interregnum, she was a commentator on CNN.  Her husband, whom she married in 2010, is the Deputy Finance Director of the DCCC.   Jen Psaki will become a familiar face on television news.

Communication Director

Kate Bedingfield

If organizational charts actually reflected organizations, the White House

Communication Director would help develop and promote the President’s communication agenda and media strategy.  Even before Donald Trump, Presidents did a lot of that themselves – with their most senior advisors, not just their communications people.  The Press Secretary, in that orderly world, would report to the Communication Director.  Press Secretaries are too visibly speaking on behalf of the President for the relationship to be simply President to Communication Director to Press Secretary.  Every President, every press secretary, and every communication director works those relationships out.

Thirty-eight years old, Kate Bedingfield is a product of one of Atlanta’s most prosperous suburbs.  She grew up in Sandy Spring’s, Georgia.  Her dad was a senior executive at CNN before teaching at the University of South Carolina; her mom was and still is a media consultant. From Riverwood High School, she went to the University of Virginia.

2008 was a particularly busy year for Kate Bedington’s work in communication and politics.  She served as John Edward’s spokesperson during his ill-fated Presidential campaign and as communication director for Jeanne Shaheen’s successful campaign to be elected Senator from New Hampshire.  After working in the Obama administration as deputy director of media affairs and in other roles, she joined the Motion Picture Association of America in 2011 and became their spokesperson and, in 2013, vice president for their media affairs.  That year, she married political and corporate consultant David Kieve with whom she has two children.  Kieve is a Founding Partner of Hilltop Public Solutions as is Patrick Dillon, husband of one of Joe Biden’s two Deputy Chiefs of Staff – Jen O’Malley Dillon.

Deputy Communications Director

Pili Tobar

 Pili Tobar was born in Florida, raised in Guatemala. Her parents returned from Miami to Guatemala City. Her mother and step-father are physicians in Guatemala (Her biological father died young.)   Tobar went from school in Guatemala City to the University of Miami.

Pili Tobar acknowledges that her parents were slow to accept that she was a lesbian.  Her mother and step-father are separated, but each of them, she says, now has a strong relationship with Pili and her wife Christina Carr.  Each are enthusiastic about their granddaughter.

Pili Tobar and her wife Christina Carr were communication directors for Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego.  It was through Christina Carr, an attorney, that Pili Tobar reports she came to understand the extent of the difficulties that undocumented immigrants to the United States face.

Pili Tobar earned a BA and an MPA at the University of Miami where she developed her interest in American politics.  She served as press secretary for America’s Voice, an advocacy organization, as a regional press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, and as communications director for the Latino Victory Project.  Before being selected, in her early 30s, to be Deputy Communications Director by Joe Biden, she was media director for Senator Chuck Schumer.

Director, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (OIA)

Julie Chavez Rodriguez

According to an organizational chart, the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs builds relationships with state, county, local, and tribal officials.  It probably does not work that way at the highest levels.  Will Governor Cuomo want to talk with Julie Chavez Rodriguez or one of her staff?  Will Lori Lightfoot, the Mayor of Chicago?

They might, actually.  I would want to meet her.  She is Cesar Chavez’ granddaughter.  The granddaughter of an iconic union and civil rights leader, both her parents worked for Cesar Chavez’ union, the United Farm Workers.  Julia Chavez Rodriguez has been an activist supporting farmworkers and their union since she was a child.  While she was in junior high school, she was arrested passing out flyers during a protest.

After high school, she went to the University of California at Berkeley.  After graduation, she worked for seven years at the Cesar Chavez Foundation.  In 2008, she joined the Obama campaign.  After Obama’s victory, Chavez Rodriguez went to work in the administration – first as Director of Youth Employment and then as Deputy Press Secretary for Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior.  She went back to the White House in 2011, remaining there to the end of Obama’s term as Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement and then as a Special Assistant to the President.

During the interregnum, she served as a principal aide to Senator Kamala Harris.  She joined Harris’s presidential campaign, eventually serving as the campaign’s traveling chief of staff.  When Harris suspended her candidacy for President, Joe Biden’s campaign hired Chavez Rodriguez to oversee Latino outreach.  As Director of OIA, she can draw on her relationship with Kamala Harris and on her role with Harris as State Director where she surely came to understand the complexities of state agencies and politics.

Director, Office of Legislative Affairs

Louisa Terrell

 Joe Biden has a lot of friends and connections.  Few have stronger ties to him than Louisa Terrell.  When the Biden Foundation was created in 2017, she became Executive Director.  She served in that role until June, 2019.  The organization paused its operations when Joe Biden announced his candidacy for President.

Terrell is not just a friend.  She a Delaware person — a graduate of Wilmington Friends School.  She’s also a Massachusetts person – a graduate of Tufts with a JD from Boston College.  She worked in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office for a year.

For seven years, she worked as Deputy chief of staff and counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose Chair was Joe Biden.  She spent two years in the Obama-Biden administration beginning in 2009 as a Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. Her other public sector work included a one-year stint as Chief of Staff for Senator Cory Booker and three years beginning in January 2015 as Counselor to the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, a position she left for the Biden Foundation.

She has had two recent brief private sector experiences – seven months as Yahoo’s Federal Policy and Strategy Director and a little more than a year as McKinsey’s Deputy General counsel and Head of Public Affairs.

Her long connection with Joe Biden will give her immediate credibility in her role with legislators and their senior staff.   They will know she has the ear of and the confidence of the President.

Deputy Director, Office of Legislative Affairs

Shuwanza Goff

 As children, Shuwanza Goff’s parents were next door neighbors in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. Both their fathers worked for the same paper company.   Her mother’s mother died when she was three.  The youngest of eleven children, Shuwanza’s mother was raised by relatives in New York, returning to Georgetown each summer to be with her father.  Shuwanza Goff’s mother and father saw each other more as they returned to Georgetown during college breaks.

Despite their Georgetown ties, Shuwanza Goff’s parents became New Yorkers.  Her father worked for the New York City Transit Authority for 26 years.  Her mother was a parole officer and then an investigator for children’s protective services. Shuwanza Goff followed politics closely even as a child. She wrote a letter to New York City Mayor Dickens to express her regret that he had been defeated by Rudy Giuliani.  In fourth grade she led a protest to express dismay that when Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke at her school, fourth graders were not included in the audience.

In their retirement, Shuwanza Goff’s parents moved to Mechanicsville, Virginia.  Shuwanza and her sister completed their pre-collegiate education in a private school in Richmond.  Shuwanza Goff went to the University of Tennessee and got a Master’s Degree in Justice, Law and Society from American University.  She went directly to work for the US House of Representatives where she began as a staff assistant and concluded, almost eight years later, as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s Director of Legislative Operations.  She may be only 33 years old, but she has great credentials to serve as Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs focusing on the House of Representatives.

Deputy Director, Office of Legislative Affairs

Reema Dodin

 Reema Dodin will be the highest ranking Palestinian-American in the Biden administration.  Her grandfather, Mustafa Dodin, was once a Jordanian minister.  He was also the founder of a village league in the Hebron area in 1978, created with the grudging approval of Israel after Israel had prevented him from creating a political movement to negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.  Reema Dodin retains ties with and has visited her family who live in Dura.

Her mother was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 1988.  She recalled a massacre of men and boys by Bedouins in the 1960s at the behest, she understood, of Jordan from which the women in her family protected her father and brother.  She recalled the Israeli victory of 1967, her family hiding in caves during and after the war.  She developed ties to the United States having done a foreign exchange year in Illinois as a high school senior. In the interview, Reema  Dodin’s mother described returning to the United States after marrying a Palestinian studying in America who had come home to find a bride.  In the United States, following her husband, she got degrees from Purdue and Wisconsin and settled in California.

Reema Dodin was born in North Carolina during the earliest part of her father’s career.  She got her BA from the University of California at Berkeley and JD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  While getting her JD, she did an internship in Senator Richard Durbin’s office.  After she completed her JD, she returned to work for Senator Durbin, where she has remained except for stints in the Obama and Biden campaigns.  She has co-authored a book – Inside Congress — and has been promoted within Durbin’s staff.  Durbin is now the Senate’s Minority Whip, ranked second to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer among Democrats.  Seema Dodin has been Senator Durbin’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Floor Leader.

With her appointment as Deputy Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs, she has had to defend statements she made as an undergraduate. She did not explain, as she could have, that her comment “suicide bombings are the last resort of a desperate people” was an observation, not support for suicide bombing.  The Biden transition team wrote to the Jerusalem Post that Dodin has grown from positions she held in college in favor of divestment from Israel and a description of Israel as an apartheid state.

Despite her undergraduate views, Reema Dodin is widely respected among Senators and knowledgeable about the Senate.  She has the right experience to serve as Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs focusing on the Senate.

Concluding Statement

What characterizes these people is that, like almost all of the Biden nominees and appointees, they have the right experience to take on their new job.