Politics

Biden Makes Staff Changes as White House Counsel Departs, Midterms Loom

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday appointed Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta, as a senior adviser in the White House, further shuffling his senior staff amid a series of high-profile departures heading into the midterm campaigns.

Dana Remus, the president’s top lawyer in the White House, announced that she would leave next month after overseeing Mr. Biden’s efforts to name a record number of judges to the federal bench, including the successful confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. Ms. Remus will be replaced by Stuart Delery, her deputy in the White House Counsel’s Office.

Ms. Bottoms succeeds Cedric Richmond as the president’s ambassador to community and business organizations at a time when Mr. Biden is struggling with low approval ratings and his party faces the prospect of losing one or both houses of Congress in the fall elections.

“Mayor Bottoms understands that democracy is about making government work for working families, for the people who are the backbone of this country,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “Keisha,” he added, “is bright, honorable, tough and has the integrity required to represent our administration to the American public.”

The core of Mr. Biden’s White House staff has been relatively stable since he took office. He continues to be guided by Ron Klain, the chief of staff, and three longtime advisers: Mike Donilon, Steve Ricchetti and Bruce Reed. None of his original cabinet members have left the administration.

But an increasing number of departures in recent weeks has added to the sense of frustration inside the West Wing as the president struggles to address inflation, the war in Ukraine and a series of other difficult issues that have sent his approval rating to around 40 percent.

The latest moves are part of a series of personnel shifts. In addition to Mr. Richmond, the president’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, and his Covid czar, Jeffrey D. Zients, have left recently, as have several aides to Vice President Kamala Harris. Many Democrats speculate that there will be further changes, especially if the midterm elections go badly as they expect.

Mr. Biden has also brought Anita Dunn, a veteran Democratic communications consultant, back to the White House full time. And he shifted John F. Kirby, who had been the Pentagon spokesman, to the National Security Council to help oversee foreign policy messaging. Julie Rodriguez, the director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, will also become a senior adviser to Mr. Biden, the White House said on Wednesday.

White House officials are bracing for the possibility of a barrage of incoming legal attacks from congressional committees if Republicans take control of the House or the Senate. Republicans have already promised to use the committees to investigate a series of Biden administration actions if they control the oversight functions of Congress next year.

With Ms. Remus leaving, the task of responding to those investigations will fall to Mr. Delery, who served as the No. 3 official in the Justice Department during the Obama administration. He will be the first openly gay person to serve as White House counsel.

Mr. Biden called Mr. Delery a dedicated public servant and praised Ms. Remus, who has been providing him with legal advice since the beginning of his presidential campaign.

“I am immensely grateful for the service of Dana Remus, who has been an invaluable member of my senior staff for the past three years and helped reinstate a culture of adherence to the rule of law,” the president said in a statement.

White House officials said that Ms. Remus, who had a baby during the campaign, had told the president that she wanted to serve for about a year in the White House. She ended up exceeding that tenure by several months.

It is not uncommon for top White House staff members to leave after more than a year, but presidents often request that they do so early in an election year so the new team can be in place before voting that could usher in changes to Washington’s political dynamic.

Mr. Richmond, a former House member from Louisiana, left the White House recently to enter the private sector and take a post as a senior adviser at the Democratic National Committee. The tensions between the party’s activist progressive wing and its leadership proved a challenge during his time in the White House.

Ms. Bottoms will take over Mr. Richmond’s role as the head of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Ms. Bottoms served one term as mayor of Atlanta and drew national attention for her handling of protests after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, which at times turned violent. She was an early supporter of Mr. Biden in the 2020 primaries for the Democratic nomination, and he briefly considered her as a possible vice-presidential running mate. She later turned down a cabinet-level position in the administration.

Her appointment to the White House staff was reported earlier by Axios, which quoted her saying that she planned to do “more listening than anything.”

“It’s important that people feel their voices are reflected and their voices are heard,” she told the news outlet.

Ms. Bottoms served as a judge and a city councilwoman before being elected mayor in 2017 but chose not to run for a second term last year amid rising crime in Atlanta. Homicides there rose 58 percent in 2020, and challengers accused her of not focusing enough on reducing crime.

She gained national prominence when she spoke directly to protesters after Mr. Floyd’s killing, expressing what she said was her own deep pain over his murder beneath the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer while scolding demonstrators who resorted to violence and telling them to “go home.”

Mr. Biden praised her approach. “We saw her stand tall and speak out during the summer of protests and pain,” he said at a fund-raiser last year.

Ms. Bottoms 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,” she said. “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.”

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