CNN | 9/23/2020 | Listen

Susan Rice is the VP Biden needs

Updated 6:39 AM ET, Thu August 6, 2020

Editor's Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is the founder of Evergreen Consulting. Follow her at @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Read more opinion articles at CNN.

(CNN) - Joe Biden has a high-class problem. He has a short list of highly qualified women, who would all serve as excellent running mates.

But there is a strong case to be made for Susan Rice. For full disclosure, I have known Rice for more than a decade, going back to the first Obama campaign and the early days of the Obama White House. And four years ago, I would have bet my life savings against the odds that she would be on Joe Biden's shortlist of running mates in 2020. I also would have felt comfort in knowing Hillary Clinton would be campaigning for her second term at this point. I can admit to being wrong.

But elections, like governing, are about meeting the need of the country at a particular time.

As a family member, who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans, recently said to me about Rice, "I just feel like she would know what to do when she gets in there because she has been there before. And right now, we need that."

And government experience matters -- now more than ever before. The team that would surround Biden, should he win the election, would be dealing with a recession, a global pandemic and the rebuilding of an institutional infrastructure that has been decimated by the Trump administration.

Though I had met Rice before she began her tenure in the White House, I first really saw her in action when she was the US Ambassador to the United Nations (2009 to 2013) and later the National Security Adviser (2013 to 2017). And what I observed was a leader with the guts and the experience to step into the role of commander in chief. During her tenure in the Obama administration, I saw her stand up to older white men who served in cabinet roles and senior White House roles -- and witnessed her speak on behalf of more junior staff during meetings with the President of the United States.

She pushed for a deal with Iran. She advocated for opening up relations with Cuba. And she helped lead the global response to Ebola, leading the development of the pandemic response plan and even briefing incoming Trump officials on it.

Her leadership helped prevent Ebola from becoming a broader pandemic. As such, Rice would be a strong partner for Biden in addressing our current global pandemic, re-engaging our partners overseas and rebuilding the national security institutions -- from the State Department to intelligence and defense agencies -- that Trump has undercut.

She is also not without her public bruising.

No one serves the number of years she has in public life without having some tough moments, or even years. And perhaps no moment in recent memory exemplifies that more for Rice than the months after Benghazi. I was the spokesperson at the State Department through much of this "controversy," a time when Fox News dedicated hours of programming to covering just this issue. We should not be naïve about the efforts the Trump team and his allies will make to revive Benghazi as a fake scandal should Rice be Biden's pick.

Despite the fact that the UN Ambassador has absolutely no role in Embassy Security, Rice became the fall person for a fabricated controversy surrounding a real tragedy that left four Americans dead, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens. But even this incident tells you something about her.

When other members of the national security team refused to go on television, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rice took one for the team and did a full round of Sunday shows utilizing talking points prepared by the intelligence community based on what they knew at the time. Even her mother warned her not to do it, but she stepped up when no one else would.

And it bruised her — publicly but also personally. From my vantage point as White House Communications Director at the time, the bold, courageous, outspoken policy wonk once inclined to jump into public debates was less likely to do so during the final years of her tenure. In the end, with the benefit of time, writing and reflection, the whole episode has ultimately made her stronger. She has become a model of how to pick yourself back up and keep fighting -- even when people try to knock you down.

Her book, as well as interviews she has given and opinion pieces she has written in the years since Trump took office give a preview of who she is today -- scars and all. She is direct, tough, and no holds barred, and has written about everything from the alarming influence of Putin to the next steps in racial justice. We should not underestimate the value of having someone in the role of Vice President who knows how to pick themselves up.

She is not a politician. In fact, she is the anti-politician.

Political experience is overvalued. Every four years, pundits and prognosticators argue about why one candidate over another may help with moving the electoral map. It rarely makes a difference.

Outside of political calculations, I can't imagine a scenario where Joe Biden doesn't pick a woman of color as his running mate -- not because of how campaign ads will look, but because he needs a woman of color at the table with him in the White House.

Rice is the great-granddaughter of slaves, the granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants, and the daughter of a man who served with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Her father wasn't even allowed in the officer club at Fort Knox because he was not white, yet he still rose to become a Governor of the Federal Reserve.

She attended her confirmation hearing with her infant son -- chaired by none other than John Ashcroft -- and served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs while nursing him, long before breastfeeding in public or even being a working mom in a high-level position was seen as the norm.

Campaigns feel long and hard. But governing is longer and harder. Joe Biden has been pretty clear that he is looking for someone who is a trusted partner, someone who could step into the role on day one. That's the right criteria.

Susan Rice's strength is never going to be her impact as a rousing public speaker drawing crowds of 50,000, and while I have no idea how she would handle a list of fundraising calls, this moment is not about finding a political sidekick or Twitter celebrity. It is about finding someone who can be a trusted partner to Joe Biden in the White House.

If she is Biden's running mate, here is what I hope people learn about her: She is not only smart as hell, she is funny, outspoken and has a fiercely loyal group of women around her. Susan gives hugs, isn't phony, and won't be bamboozled by Vladimir Putin or Mitch McConnell.

This moment doesn't call for the traditional running mate who will shake hands and kiss babies on a bus tour across midwestern swing states. And that's probably not Rice's thing anyway. But there isn't anyone with the experience, the relationships across government institutions and the female cojones who could serve as a better partner for the most important task of governing than Susan Rice.


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