Susan Rice ’86 joins Biden administration as head of domestic policy

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President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Obama White House senior official Susan Rice ’86 to run the White House Domestic Policy Council. In the role, Rice will likely help implement Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, a sprawling set of policy proposals which Biden says will address the job crisis created by the current pandemic. 

Rice, a Stanford graduate who has frequented campus over the years to give lectures, worked closely with Biden during the Obama administration as the ambassador to the United Nations and later as the national security advisor.

The Biden campaign said Rice “knows government inside and out” in a statement following her selection. According to Politico, the decision came as a surprise given her expertise and experience in foreign policy. Rice was previously on Biden’s shortlist for vice president. 

Rice’s time at Stanford was characterized by service and activism. A history major, she won the 1984 Truman scholarship, an award granted to undergraduates pursuing a career in public service. In the same year, Rice was among the first recipients of the Stanford public service fellowship awards. 

Rice was later one of three students in her year at Stanford to win the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which she used to study international relations at New College, Oxford.

During her senior year, Rice and fellow recipients William Handley ’86 M.A. ’86 and current Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies director Michael McFaul ’86 M.A. ’86 leveraged their positions as incoming Rhodes scholars to urge Stanford University and the Rhodes Trust to divest from corporations conducting business in South Africa in protest of apartheid.

In a letter to the campus community published in The Daily, a student group that the three students were a part of announced the establishment of “Free South Africa Fund,” after the Board of Trustees decided to divest only a small portion of their investments in companies doing business in South Africa.

Rice, Handley and McFaul asked alumni to donate to their fund instead of donating to Stanford. The fund eventually would be released to the University when it fully divested from “corporations doing business in South Africa,” or when “the black majority there has the political power to determine its future, whichever comes first.” 

“There are, indeed, many good reasons to give to Stanford,” they wrote “There is, however, one compelling reason not to give to Stanford, or at least not yet.”

After Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994, the fund donated the remaining $7,234 to the Amy Biehl Fund at Stanford, which provides research grants for Stanford students working on scholarly projects in South Africa.

History professor and Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute Director Clayborne Carson told The Daily in a 2010 interview that Rice was a “warm and personable figure” who wanted to make the most of her time at Stanford.

“If [African leaders] thought that because this person is smaller in stature and looks younger than her age, they could somehow take advantage of her, they were definitely mistaken,” Carlson added.

Rice has visited Stanford since her graduation on many occasions to give talks to students. Her message across the years — whether at a 1991 talk about the U.S.’ stakes in ensuring Africa’s development, a 2011 event honoring LGBTQ+ alumni or her 2019 visit to discuss national unity — has been consistent: Rice wants students to engage in public service so as to aid the country in responding to transnational problems.

At Stanford’s 119th Commencement in June 2010, Rice urged graduates to take a more active role in bettering the world. University President John Hennessy introduced her as someone who has been “breaking boundaries and surprising people her entire life.”

“Things get better because we make them better, and things go wrong when we get too comfortable,” Rice said. “If you want change, you have to make it. If we want progress, we have to drive it.”

Rice also met her husband, former ABC News executive producer Ian Cameron ’83 at Stanford. The couple married in 1992 and have two children, including former Stanford College Republicans (SCR) President John Rice-Cameron ’20.

Rice-Cameron, a staunch right-winger with politics that are in many ways opposite from his mother’s, had built a reputation for himself as a top campus conservative. He has gotten caught up in multiple controversies during his time at Stanford, from filing and later dropping charges against another student that had allegedly pushed him while Rice-Cameron tabled in support of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation to conspiring with a Hoover academic to conduct “opposition research” on a student. Under Rice-Cameron’s leadership, SCR transformed from a quiet gathering of conservatives who met weekly to a fully-fledged right-wing activist organization, inviting divisive and controversial speakers to campus.

Rice describes Rice-Cameron in her 2019 memoir “Tough Love” as having a “customary flair for the dramatic.” She wrote that while discussions about politics with her son could remain calm and rational, more often a “phone call or phone call or casual conversation in the car or around the dinner table can escalate into an explosive, sometimes profane argument.” 

Rice affirms her love — and pride — for her son throughout the book, though writing that “it can be deeply painful to love someone so powerfully with whom I disagree so profoundly.”

“Even when most frustrated, I’m proud that Jake cares deeply about public issues and is an effective leader,” Rice wrote, using a nickname for her son. “It takes guts to get in the arena, especially at a place like Stanford where his views have earned him many dedicated detractors.”

During her time as the ambassador to the United Nations and later as the national security advisor, Rice worked to advance U.S. interests while promoting respect for human rights.

But some of her decisions would come back to bite her. Notoriously, Rice made numerous false statements on television about the 2012 terrorist assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, namely suggesting that the premeditated attack was actually a spontaneous act of violence in response to an American-made anti-Islam video. Rice wrote in her 2019 memoir “Tough Love” that those comments turned her from a “respected, if relatively low-profile cabinet official to a nationally notorious villain or heroine, depending on one’s political perspective.” 

But, a senior correspondent at Foreign Policy magazine points out that Benghazi would “hardly be her biggest vulnerability.” She’s been criticized for her hawkish stance toward war in Libya and Syria, her involvement in “unmasking” of Trump’s incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn from intelligence reports and her reluctance to condemn Rwandan-backed rebel group for rape, executions and child soldier recruitment during her time as assistant secretary for state for African affairs under the Clinton administration. 

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Biden said Rice would “align domestic policy, economic policy and national security unlike ever before.”

“This is a big and critical role, and that’s why I asked Susan to serve. She’s been there and she knows what it takes.”

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Emma Talley is from Sacramento, California. She is the vol. 258 and 259 Managing Editor of News and plans to pursue a career in journalism. Emma is a current metro intern at the San Francisco Chronicle covering education. The way to her heart is coffee. Contact her at etalley 'at' stanforddaily.com or news 'at' stanforddaily.com.
Kate Selig is a news managing editor and co-chairs the diversity, equity and inclusion team.
Elena Shao '21 is from Suwanee, Georgia. At The Daily, she is a Managing Editor for News. Outside, she's studying political science. She also enjoys learning foreign languages and is hoping to pursue a career as an investigative and data journalist. Contact her at eshao98 'at' stanford.edu.