President Biden is naming Julie Chavez Rodriguez to serve as a White House senior adviser, putting her on par with some of his most senior and longest-serving aides and making her the first Latina to ever hold a top West Wing staffing role.
Rodriguez currently serves as director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the White House is set to announce Wednesday that she will retain that position and become a senior adviser and special assistant to the president, serving alongside other longtime Biden aides Mike Donilon, Steve Ricchetti and Anita Dunn, who recently returned to the White House.
Rodriguez will now be part of a wider clutch of aides, including chief of staff Ron Klain, deputy chief of staff Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and communications director Kate Bedingfield, who consult with the president daily on a wide range of domestic, foreign, communications and political issues.
When the president consults his senior team in the Oval Office, there’s a 22-inch-tall bronze bust of Cesar Chavez peering at them. Chavez is the late civil rights and farm worker leader who founded the union that eventually became known as the United Farm Workers — and Julie Chavez Rodriguez is his granddaughter.
That she’ll be sitting in on big meetings with the likeness of her grandfather watching “is pretty remarkable and speaks to both what I see as the important opportunities in this country but also that this administration continues to create,” Rodriguez told CBS News on Tuesday night. “That in two generations we can go from a farmworker to a senior adviser in the Oval Office sitting together.”
Her new role comes amid other staff changes set to be formally announced Wednesday, including the addition of Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta, who will lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, a job recently vacated by Cedric Richmond, who is now serving as an outside political adviser to the president.
The changes come as the White House is staffing up again for what is poised to be a rocky season for an increasingly unpopular president trying to stave off widespread Democratic Party losses in the midterm elections. Several senior staffers, many of whom worked on Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign or with him during the Obama administration, have departed for the private sector in recent weeks, others are expected to continue shifting into new roles and others may eventually move to the president’s 2024 anticipated reelection campaign.
Rodriguez’s current role keeps her in constant touch with lawmakers and the nation’s mayors, county executives and governors regarding Biden administration policies and in the aftermath of natural disasters or other emergencies.
Much of her work has focused on selling and explaining the bipartisan infrastructure plan and the American Rescue Plan, and how local and state leaders can apply for or reap the benefits of the record levels of federal funding established by the laws. But colleagues also noted that she relaunched the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico and ensured that her office’s director for Puerto Rican affairs was someone born and raised in Puerto Rico.
In the new role, Rodriguez said she expects to focus on those same issues, plus immigration reform and “the important impact that we’re having in the Latino community and making sure that that impact is understood and felt in communities across the country.”
Rodriguez served as deputy of the intergovernmental affairs office during the Obama administration after working on the Obama-Biden 2008 campaign. She credited the office’s then-director, Cecilia Munoz, who “served as a mentor and adviser to so many people like me that are continuing to impact and influence both government inside and outside in remarkable ways.”
As the Obama administration ended, Rodriguez was hired by then-Sen. Kamala Harris to serve as the new senator’s state director. She later worked on the Harris presidential campaign as a traveling chief of staff, a connection that eventually brought her back to Biden.
While there are four Latinos in the Biden Cabinet — the most to ever serve a president concurrently — Rodriguez will be the first Latina to hold such a senior role on a president’s West Wing staff.
It’s a decision likely to help assuage at least some concern among Latino lawmakers and civil rights organizations — usually expressed only privately but often directly to the president’s top aides — that Mr. Biden is missing valuable and important real-world and political perspective by not placing more Latinos in senior roles.