Jockeying for Senior Posts in a Biden Administration Accelerates

Susan Rice is a Possible Choice Secretary of State, Though Senate Majority Battle May Force the President-elect to Reconsider

While the results of America’s presidential election have yet to be officially certified, all but a relative handful of observers have concluded that former Vice-President Joe Biden has prevailed and will replace Donald Trump come January. Behind the scenes, the jockeying for senior posts in a Biden administration has accelerated. For the critical positon of Secretary of State, Biden is rumored to be considering Obama alumnus Susan Rice for the role, though a probable Republican Senate majority may force him to reconsider.
 
SUSAN RICE: A LEADING CANDIDATE, WITH AN ACHILLES HEEL
 
Several senior U.S. officials have indicated in the press that Biden is leaning towards veteran insiders for the positions of Secretaries of State and Defense, as the exigencies of the pandemic and the resultant economic turmoil will leave his administration with little time for “on-the-job-training” at those critical posts. For that reason, among others, Biden is reportedly considering Susan Rice for the top post at State. 
 
Rice carries the benefit of considerable foreign policy experience, ranging from junior NSC staffer to NSA, as well as adding further demographic diversity to his cabinet, something highly valued by today’s Democratic coalition. — an experienced foreign policy hand who’s held jobs all the way from junior NSC staffer to top Africa diplomat to U.N. ambassador to national security adviser — an appealing option for secretary of State. She and Biden are said to have a warm relationship, though they disagreed over how to deal with tumult in places like Egypt and Libya when Biden was vice president.
 
Rice would likely face harsh scrutiny from Republican Senators, many of whom harbor ill will towards her over her role in the aftermath of the Benghazi episode of 2012. At that time, Rice told multiple media outlets that the attack on the U.S. consulate which killed four Americans was prompted by an anti-Islamic video, rather than a premeditated terrorist operation by the AQ-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia. As congressional Republicans at the time phrased it, Rice had “either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter.” Attitudes have not softened appreciably in the intervening years. 
 
THE WAGES OF DIVIDED GOVERNMENT 
 
A possible Rice nomination illustrates what is likely to be a defining feature of the incoming Biden administration. Unlike nearly every President in modern history, Biden will enter office having to contend with a Senate held by the opposing party. And since cabinet posts must be confirmed by the Senate, this lends Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell an outsized influence on the early direction of the Biden administration.
 
Republicans expect “an ongoing discussion” about Biden’s cabinet nominations, in the words of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. "The president should get significant deference... Having said that, especially when you have divided government ... we've got to recognize we've got a responsibility: advice and consent," Toomey said, adding crucially that "people who are well outside of the political mainstream don't belong in really important, senior-level, Cabinet-type posts. And that's why that will be an ongoing discussion, I think, between a Republican Senate and Joe Biden," Toomey added. 
 
Democrats, particularly on the party’s left flank, are none too keen on the prospect of Senate Republicans exercising a de facto veto on Biden’s first steps towards staffing his administration. “Mitch McConnell will force Joe Biden to negotiate every single cabinet secretary, every single district court judge, every single U.S. attorney with him,” saidDemocratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “My guess is we’ll have a constitutional crisis pretty immediately.”