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Biden Announces Two More Top Picks: Susan Rice and Denis McDonough

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen two more people for top positions in his administration. Susan Rice is to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Denis McDonough is Biden's pick to run Veterans Affairs.

Let's talk about these selections with NPR's Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So Susan Rice is a veteran of the Obama administration, right? But...

LIASSON: Yes, of the...

GREENE: ...An expert on...

LIASSON: Foreign policy.

GREENE: ...Foreign policy, yeah.

LIASSON: (Laughter) Well, that's been the first...

GREENE: So shifting over to domestic policy.

LIASSON: That's been the first reaction of everyone - oh. She had incredible credentials in national security and foreign policy. She was the former national security adviser. She was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She was on the short list for vice president. She was also on the short list for secretary of state.

GREENE: Yeah.

LIASSON: But there were some concerns about whether she could get confirmed if the Senate continues to be led by Republicans. This new job, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, is not a Senate-confirmed position, but it sounds like President-elect Biden was determined to find a high-profile role for her. He thinks she is really good at working the interagency process. That's what running the National Security Council or the Domestic Policy Council is about. And so she's - that's what she's going to do. And she's not going to have to get confirmed by the Senate. We know she has political ambitions. She considered a run in Maine, her home state, for Senate, but she didn't do that. So now she's switching over to domestic policy, and Joe Biden has a very big, ambitious domestic policy agenda.

GREENE: So for someone, though, who might have her own political ambitions, was in the discussion for positions as high as vice president, I mean, is this a prominent enough position?

LIASSON: I think it is. This is a - as I said, this is an administration - incoming administration that wants to do a lot of things in domestic policy - on education, civil rights, the environment. And especially if they have a Republican Congress, they're going to have to be very creative and figure out ways to get policies through that don't necessarily need legislation. And what the job is, running the Domestic Policy Council, is you have to coordinate every other domestic policy agency and get people together and work through the policy process. And that's what Joe Biden thinks Susan Rice is really good at.

GREENE: A real big bureaucracy to sort of manage.

LIASSON: Yeah.

GREENE: So shifting to Denis McDonough, also a veteran of the Obama administration - remind us of his credentials and...

LIASSON: He was the chief of staff.

GREENE: ...Why he might be named here.

LIASSON: Right. He was the chief of staff for the last four years of the Obama administration. He is considered to be an excellent manager. If he - when he - assuming that he will run the VA, he'll be the VA secretary. That is going - that's a sprawling bureaucracy, huge problems in Veterans Administration's health care. And he's another person that is considered to be competent, loyal, somebody that Joe Biden knows really well. And that's who he picked. He's not a veteran. This is not a message choice. This is a choice of someone who Biden thinks can deliver for veterans.

GREENE: And in the few seconds we have left, I mean, broadly, how are Biden's picks landing with people, supporters and critics?

LIASSON: I think that they're landing fairly well. I think because the Democrats are such a big, diverse coalition that likes to complain about each other - progressives complain they're not enough progressives; Hispanic groups and Black groups complain there not enough Blacks or Hispanics. But I would say, for the most part, these are people that are widely acceptable to Democrats.

GREENE: NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you as always.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.