President-elect Joe Biden’s return to “normalcy” will include restoring the daily press briefing — and at least two women are under consideration to lead the new post-Trump show, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
Kate Bedingfield is seen as having the inside track to become either White House communications director or press secretary. Symone Sanders could be offered the role of incoming press secretary, or slot into another position before winding up “at the podium” down the line, Biden aides and other people in and around the transition said.
Both have expressed interest in the senior White House posts. Their appointments would represent a return to the ways of previous administrations in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room — before familiar sparring and spinning devolved into gaslighting and outright falsehoods that damaged the Trump administration’s relationship with the press and many Americans.
Colleagues note the two women are friends and respect each other personally and professionally.
Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager in charge of communications and a longtime Biden aide, and Sanders, a senior adviser to the campaign, developed a close working relationship over the 19-month campaign, including during its lowest points in the primary. The most visible members of the campaign were three women: Bedingfield, Sanders and senior adviser Anita Dunn, who is returning to her private-sector job.
While much of the focus has been on Sanders and Bedingfield, it’s unclear who would step into the communications director position if press secretary goes to Bedingfield. Several well-known Democratic communications experts consulted by POLITICO said they were unlikely to return to the White House, though a few left open the possibility if approached, especially if the role were expanded to be a deputy chief of staff.
Biden has yet to decide on the shape of his press shop, the people familiar with the appointments process said. He remains focused on other administration positions and appointments.
Former Obama White House communications director Jen Psaki, who has been helping the Biden transition and plans to work on Cabinet confirmations, is not expected to go into the administration. The rest of the press shop hasn’t yet taken shape but those who did battle throughout the campaign are expected to be snapped up for the White House.
Bedingfield is widely viewed by campaign staffers and Biden confidants as having the first choice of the job she wants because of her longtime ties with the president-elect. Biden this week named his former chief of staff, Ron Klain, to be his incoming chief. And one source said the fact that Bedingfield has been in a similar position before for Biden bodes well for her.
“Kate is eminently qualified to do either one of those jobs,” said Bill Burton, who was deputy press secretary under Barack Obama and has worked with Bedingfield in the past.
Bedingfield was a rapid response director for the Obama White House beginning in 2009 and then, in 2011, served as an associate communications director in the White House. Over the course of the 2020 campaign, she was a frequent guest on cable TV and routinely led press calls and briefings.
The public-facing positions combined with her past White House experience would make her a natural first pick for work behind the lectern, allies said. But Bedingfield’s strategic role in the campaign suggests she could also serve as communications director. In that job, she would oversee the press secretary and formulate the administration’s broader communications strategy.
“Amidst chaos, Kate has always been focused and disciplined in driving the president-elects message and telling his story,” said Greg Schultz, a former Biden campaign manager.
“Kate’s years of experience working directly with president-elect Biden are a huge asset as they already have a very strong relationship.”
He added that Sanders “has helped advocate, lift up, and correct the record on behalf of the campaign … with grace and skill.”
Sanders joined his organization early in the election and played what another Biden adviser called a “critical” role. Sanders defended him against charges of being too chummy with segregationists, and provided the unique perspective of a woman of color when Biden’s top advisers early on were all white. Her connection to a new and diversifying generation of Democrats and talent for speaking to its concerns added a new dimension to the campaign’s senior ranks.
If picked for the press secretary post, Sanders would be the first African American to serve in that role — a history-making possibility that is appealing to Biden, campaign officials said.
“She’s lightning-fast smart, one of those people who whether you’re in just conversation or sparring you really gotta keep up,” said Ed Gillespie, a former White House aide to President Bush who got to know Sanders when they were fellows at Harvard. “She is always a half-step ahead, if not a full step ahead.”
Sanders, who grew up in Omaha, Neb., burst onto the scene as the 25-year-old national press secretary for Bernie Sanders in 2015. Her appointment came weeks after Sanders faced demonstrations at the progressive Netroots Nation conference and as the Vermont senator was retooling his message to better respond to the emerging Black Lives Matter movement.
After the 2016 campaign, Sanders worked as a CNN political commentator. She spoke with — and was courted by — many of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls before ultimately deciding on Biden. Sanders took considerable heat for her decision, particularly from progressives. In early TV appearances representing the Biden campaign, she was forced to answer tough questions about his authorship of the 1994 crime bill.
Even before the campaign ended, Sanders’ influence inside and media personality outside sparked speculation about her future. She hasn’t been shy about her career ambitions. In her recent book, she urged up-and-coming politicos to write down their goals and even practice saying them out loud.
“It’s like me saying, ‘One day I wanna be White House press secretary!’ There. I said it,” Sanders wrote. “Everyone says don’t tell people your dreams because it’ll kill them. No! You have to express them — you have to give them oxygen in order to let them breathe and grow and become something real. They’re not real if you’ve never told anyone about them!”
Along with her duties as a senior adviser with Biden, Sanders quietly emerged as a top adviser to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, traveling frequently with her and helping the senator prepare for the debate and speeches. Sanders is close with Harris’ sister, Maya, and she became a trusted advocate for Harris inside the Biden campaign, according to Biden aides and Harris allies.
Harris, who was able to bring only a handful of her own staffers into the campaign, increasingly came to rely on Sanders because she was familiar with Biden and close to his broader political orbit. “She could answer questions on the spot because she was in those meetings,” a Biden aide said.
While Biden’s White House staff is taking shape, Harris is working to build out her own office. Harris recently tapped Minyon Moore, a member of Biden’s transition advisory board and former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, to help recruit and review applicants for top administration positions, including Harris’ incoming vice presidential chief of staff and communications director.
Kenny Thompson, a Biden donor who volunteered for the campaign and previously worked in the vice president’s office with Bedingfield, said he hoped she would reunite with Sanders in the White House.
“It’s a really good tag team,” he said.
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