President Biden is tapping former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to replace Cedric Richmond as one of his most senior aides, bringing a Democratic rising star and former VP contender into the White House at a critical juncture, Axios has learned.
Why it matters: As director of the White House Office of Public Engagement beginning in the coming weeks, Bottoms will immediately have access to some of the most high-level planning and strategy sessions in the West Wing — and to the president himself.
- The role is integral to developing Biden’s policies and then convincing the broader Democratic coalition that the president is charting the right approach.
- The stakes are high: Bottoms will be responsible for navigating divergent policy goals between progressives and centrists ahead of what’s expected to be an ugly midterm cycle for Democrats.
Driving the news: Bottoms told Axios in an interview that she plans to do “more listening than anything,” and that “it’s important that people feel their voices are reflected and their voices are heard.”
- Democrats face the prospect of losing one or both chambers of Congress in November and have struggled to find the right message for voters amid soaring inflation and Biden’s sliding approval rating.
- Bottoms, who has a reputation for candor, has committed to serve at least through the midterms, according to a senior administration official. Richmond left the White House last month for the Democratic National Committee.
Between the lines: In choosing Bottoms to replace Richmond, a Black former congressman from Louisiana, Biden is signaling an ongoing commitment to African American constituents and leaders to elevate people of color in his administration.
- Bottoms’ work as mayor of a big city in a crucial swing state — during a period that covered the start of the pandemic through nationwide protests against systemic racism — has given her experience with some of the most pressing and divisive domestic issues Americans are confronting.
- As Axios previously reported, Biden had at one point been considering former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx as Richmond’s successor.
What they’re saying: “I know what it’s like to lead through difficult times and how important it is to have strong leaders around you to navigate,” she told Axios.
- “We’ve been through some very challenging times, especially for African Americans in this country.”
- “Those challenges are still very fresh and real to me. And I live it every day: I live it as a Black woman, I live it as a mother of four children, and I know where those challenges are, but I also know where the opportunities are.”
Background: Like Richmond, Bottoms has been a close adviser to Biden since the early days of his 2020 campaign, when both were surrogates.
- Bottoms had been one of the names on the shortlist for Biden’s VP pick. He chose Kamala Harris — and implored Bottoms to lead the Small Business Administration. As Axios scooped at the time, she turned the offer down.
- In the midst of civil unrest after George Floyd’s murder, Bottoms held a press conference in Atlanta and urged protestors to go home: “This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos,” she said at the time. “If you care about this city, then go home.”
- And in an emotional interview with “Axios on HBO” in the summer of 2020, she opened up about the struggles of raising Black children amid fears they could be killed at the hands of police tasked with protecting the public.
- She plans to spend most of her time in Washington, D.C., but her family will remain in Atlanta.