Just days after his meeting with civil rights leaders, President-elect Biden nominated retired four-star U.S. Army General Lloyd Austin to serve as Secretary of Defense, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Susan Rice to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council.
If confirmed, Austin would be the first African American to lead the Department of Defense. In nominating Austin, President-elect Biden cited Austin’s 41-year “distinguished and trailblazing career” in the United States Army. Austin has over and over broken barriers for African Americans in the US military. He was the first African-American general to be in charge of an Army division. He rose to head Centcom, the Central Command (i.e. the Middle East), and was the first Black officer to be a regional commander.
He succeeded James Mattis as Centcom commander. Mattis also became a secretary of defense, under Trump. Austin may face challenges during the confirmation process because as a former military officer – like Mattis – he’ll need a congressional waiver to assume the position, and because some Democrats wanted Michele Flournoy to be nominated to be the first female Defense Secretary.
Fudge, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was just elected to a seventh term representing a majority Black district that includes parts of Cleveland and Akron. A longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee and a fierce advocate for food stamps, Fudge was originally discussed to become agriculture secretary. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat who gave Biden a key nod of support in the primaries, had strongly backed her.
President-elect Biden announced that he would instead nominate former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to that position for a second time, despite concerns that during his earlier term Vilsack unfairly ousted Shirley Sherrod, a civil-rights icon in Georgia who was the former Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the USDA.
Biden noted that Fudge will be the first woman to lead HUD in more than 40 years.
“She’s going to lead our charge to make housing more affordable and accessible,” he said. “We have to be able to build wealth in communities of color.”
Susan Rice was selected to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council. Rice previously served as President Barack Obama's National Security Advisor and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Rice will lead what the Biden transition called a “newly empowered” Domestic Policy Council after a career spent largely in foreign policy.
Biden had considered choosing her as his nominee for secretary of state but, among other concerns, was aware that she would face a difficult road to Senate confirmation. Instead, he’s given her a staff job that does not require a Senate vote. Rice continues to face opposition from some Republicans over controversial talking points she delivered after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2011, and over the unmasking of Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in 2016.