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Susan Rice, Perhaps An Unlikely Contender, Lands On Biden's VP Shortlist

Like Joe Biden, Susan Rice, seen here in April 2019, has deep experience with foreign policy issues.
Like Joe Biden, Susan Rice, seen here in April 2019, has deep experience with foreign policy issues.

One of a series of reports looking at Joe Biden's potential running mates


Susan Rice has a ready answer when asked about possibly being Joe Biden's pick for vice president.

"Whether I'm his running mate or I'm a door-knocker, I don't mind," Rice said during a recent appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. "I'm going to do everything I can to help get Joe Biden elected and to help him succeed as president."

The 55-year-old is a veteran of the past two Democratic administrations, serving in policymaking positions and as a top adviser. But she has never held or even run for elective office, so her reported inclusion on Biden's shortlist has surprised many.

But after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Minneapolis and Louisville, Ky., respectively, and the subsequent protests in cities across the U.S., pressure has built for Biden to name an African American woman to the presidential ticket. In that context, Rice's potential selection became more serious.

Biden told MSNBC this week that four of the finalists for the position are Black.

Then-Vice President Biden and then-national security adviser Rice talk in the Oval Office in April 2015.
Mike Theiler / Pool/Getty Images
Then-Vice President Biden and then-national security adviser Rice talk in the Oval Office in April 2015.

Lengthy foreign policy experience

Rice grew up in Washington, D.C. After college at Stanford University, she studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar. During the Clinton administration, Rice worked on the National Security Council and at the State Department, eventually becoming assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Bigger jobs followed during the Obama years, when she served as ambassador to the United Nations and then as national security adviser. It was during the Obama years that she also got to know then-Vice President Biden well.

Of all the potential Biden running mates, none can match Rice's experience on foreign policy. But that record also overlaps with — even duplicates — Biden's. He is a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in fact, it was Biden's deep experience in that area that helped him become the running mate to the much less experienced Barack Obama back in 2008.

Many dismiss concerns over their overlapping records, noting that Rice would be a huge asset when it comes to repairing U.S. relations with allies feeling bruised by their treatment from the Trump administration.

And certainly Rice's overall life experience is significantly different from Biden's, so she'd complement him in other ways, if chosen.

But the one very big gap in Rice's résumé is that she has never been a political candidate herself. There can be a steep learning curve when you learn how to be a candidate at the highest level of campaigning.

But in this regard, at least, the pandemic may make that less of an issue. Campaigning has changed so much since big events began being canceled back in March: Gone are the rallies and speeches in arenas, high school gymnasiums and union halls. Gone is door-to-door canvassing. And there's no more popping into the local diner in some battleground state to work the tables during the lunch hour.

"That's not happening anymore," said veteran Democratic strategist Patti Solis Doyle. "And so that skill, per se, is not as valuable as it was, say, four years ago."

Solis Doyle, who held top jobs on the presidential campaigns of Obama and Hillary Clinton, said the pandemic also complicates the process of vetting a running mate. One-on-one, get-acquainted meetings between Biden and potential nominees will be different because of COVID-19. But Solis Doyle noted that Biden and Rice are already well acquainted, including through hours and hours spent meeting with President Obama and other advisers in the Oval Office.

"If there's one person that knows that Susan Rice has been in the room and can handle the pressure, it's Joe Biden," Solis Doyle said. "Joe Biden has seen it firsthand."

Benghazi as a GOP attack

Once line of attack that Republicans would likely use against Rice if she were on the ticket is Benghazi. That's the location of the 2012 assault on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya that killed four Americans. When it happened, Rice went on TV and called the assault an act of spontaneous violence. That was later shown to be incorrect.

All these years later, it remains a rallying cry for Republicans. In fact, just this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on Fox News, and when asked about Rice's criticism of President Trump regarding reports of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers, he responded by referencing Benghazi.

"She went out and made up a story about a video at a protest when she knew full well that this was a terror attack," Pompeo said.

In the end, multiple GOP-led congressional inquiries into Benghazi uncovered no wrongdoing by the Obama administration.

Rice, meanwhile, has spent time of late looking ahead to the day when Trump is no longer president.

Early this year — before the presumptive Democratic nominee was known — she was on a panel hosted by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. The discussion centered on challenges facing a new president, assuming a Democratic victory in the fall.

At one point, Rice had a word of caution that a new Democratic administration would need to respect institutions and traditional norms and show respect for political opponents — two things she says the Trump White House certainly has not done.

"There will be those who question why a new administration ought to play by rules that the other team doesn't," she said. "And I think we've got to be very clear and very committed to resisting that temptation."

It is a pragmatic stance, and one that may rankle some progressives, but it is also an approach to governing that Biden has embraced.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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