Susan Rice, US Diplomat of Jamaican Heritage, Appointed White House Domestic Adviser

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Susan Rice, former United States ambassador to the United Nations, and national security adviser in the Obama administration, has joined the ranks of women that will serve in the White House come January 2021. 

She also joins Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as Jamaican Americans on the hierarchy of the incoming Joe Biden administration. Harris’ father is a Jamaican.

Rice, whose maternal grandparents are Jamaicans, was appointed last week as the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council by President-elect Joe Biden.  

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According to Politico, Rice was also highly considered for the position of vice president, as well as U.S. secretary of state. However, it is assumed controversy over attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Libya involvement during her tenure as national security advisor could have proven problematic on her being approved by the U.S. Senate for the post of secretary of state. A major advantage of her new appointment is that she does not require confirmation by the Senate.  

Rice will have deep involvement in the administration’s plans for racial equity, immigration and health care when she officially takes her place in the White House on January 20, 2021. The new domestic role will be a change of pace for her, as she is best known for her involvement in foreign policy.

Rice was born in Washington, D.C. to education policy scholar Lois Rice and Emmett J. Rice, the second Black governor of the Federal Reserve System. Her maternal grandparents were Jamaican immigrants to Portland, Maine. As a youngster, Rice excelled in academics and athletics. 

She attended Stanford University, where she won a Truman Scholarship and graduated with a bachelor or arts degree with honors in history in 1986. She later attended New College, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, where she earned Master of Philosophy (1988) and Doctor of Philosophy (1990) degrees, both in international relations.

While doing her master’s, she served as a foreign policy aide to Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential election. 

Rice served in the Bill Clinton administration in various capacities: at the National Security Council (NSC) from 1993 to 1997 (as director for international organizations and peacekeeping from 1993 to 1995, and as special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs from 1995 to 1997); and as assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1997 to 2001. Rice’s tenure saw significant changes in U.S.-Africa policy, including the passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and an increased U.S. focus on fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In 2001, she made the switch to private entities, working as managing director at Intellibridge, a political risk consultancy, and as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an American research group. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Rice served as a foreign policy adviser to John Kerry.

Rice went on leave from the Brookings Institution to serve as a senior foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. She was one of the first high-profile foreign policy staffers to sign onto Obama’s campaign, as most of her peers had supported Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries.

In December 2008, President-elect Obama announced he would nominate Rice to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations, a position which he restored to cabinet level. During her tenure at the United Nations, Rice championed a human rights and anti-poverty agenda, elevated climate change and women’s rights as global priorities, and committed the U.S. to agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

From 2013 to 2017, Rice served as national security advisor, a position that also does not require Senate approval. During her tenure, she supported major U.S. efforts on the Iran nuclear deal of 2015, the Ebola epidemic, reopening to Cuba and the fight against the Islamic State. 

Post-President Obama’s administration, Rice became a distinguished visiting research fellow in the School of International Service at American University in 2017. A year later, she was appointed to the board of directors at Netflix. She stayed in that position until her recent appointment to President-elect Biden’s cabinet.

Rice endeared herself to Jamaicans at home and the diaspora last week when in her address accepting her appointment by President-elect Biden, she acknowledged her Jamaican maternal grandparents and ancestry, turning to her fellow Jamaican American, VP-elect Harris, with a coy smile as she did so.

In 1992, Rice married former ABC News executive producer Ian Officer Cameron, who had been her college boyfriend at Stanford. The couple has two children, Jake and Maris.

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