Meet 6 Young Women Who Will Be Keeping The White House Running

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Natalie Gontcharova
·17 min read
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Vice President Kamala Harris made history when she took office, but she is not the only one to do so in the new administration. Not only has President Joe Biden selected the most diverse cabinet ever12 out of the 25 people nominated or confirmed for Cabinet or Cabinet-level positions are women, eight of those 12 are women of color — but his White House also boasts a record number of senior staffers who are women, including a history-making senior communications team led entirely by women.

Through our recent conversations with members of the senior staff, we’ve learned that the White House top leadership’s priorities are quite different this time around, with issues like racial justice, climate change, loan forgiveness, and healthcare all being front-and-center. Ahead, we spoke with a few of the young women stepping into White House roles about their goals for the future and more.

Emmy Ruiz, Director of Political Strategy and Outreach

Ruiz served as Hillary Clinton’s state director in Nevada and Colorado in 2016, and was a field director for the Democratic National Committee in Texas and Nevada in 2012 before serving as President Barack Obama’s Nevada state director during the general election.

First of all, how are you doing amid this difficult time?

“I’m doing okay. I think every week it seems like there’s more heartbreak, and this has been going on for quite some time. I mean, thinking of Charlottesville, thinking of child separation. I’m really trying to channel that heartbreak into action, and I’m doing my best to stay focused and look at the task ahead.”

You have quite a bit of organizing experience. How do you believe that can contribute to this new role?

“I think there are a lot of similarities between my organizing work and here. I mean, Joe Biden won this election with a broad coalition of people from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds, geographies, and demographics. I’m really excited to do my part, to make sure that they are reflected day in and day out and that they have a point of contact.”

What are you most excited about accomplishing in the new administration?

“I am most excited to reach out to that broad coalition. I’m really looking forward to ensuring that people who don’t feel like they have a voice are part of conversations. My job will also entail working with a lot of the traditional political partners: The Democratic Party and the Democratic ecosystem are broad, diverse, and complicated, and it’s one of my personal missions to make sure everyone feels included. As the mom of a three-year-old, I’m also really excited about what we are going to try to accomplish. And I think that if I do my best, at some point when he’s a little older, he’ll be really proud.”

Who is somebody whom you have admired in your career and would consider a mentor?

“Oh man, there are so many. On a macro scale, I really had the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by Hillary Clinton; as much as she’s a proud Democrat, she worked hard to build consensus and trust and to work with not just Democrats, but people across the aisle, and is really proud of that. And then, [deputy chief of staff] Jen O’Malley Dillon is someone that I’ve admired for a really long time, and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work with her, to learn from her, and to really dig in and reimagine what is possible.”

Kate Berner, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Communications

Berner was the Deputy Communications Director for Messaging for the Biden-Harris campaign. She also served as Director of Outreach and Deputy Director of Administration in the Office of the Vice President and as a Special Advisor at the Department of Commerce during the Obama administration.

Pili Tobar, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Communications

Tobar served as the Communications Director for Coalitions on the Biden-Harris campaign. Before that, Tobar worked as the Deputy Director for America’s Voice, where she advocated on behalf of immigrants.

While it must undoubtedly be exciting to start your complementary new roles in this new administration, it’s also an incredibly hard time for many people after the attacks on the Capitol. How are you two doing during this time?

KB: “I’ve lived in D.C. since 2011 and it’s hard to see the city that we love and is home occupied with 20,000 National Guard troops. I think it’s a real symbol of how divided our country is, but I’m also excited and hopeful and optimistic. The President’s first executive orders will reverse some of the worst offenses of the Trump administration, such as the Muslim ban, and move our country forward and act on the coronavirus crisis, the economic crisis, the racial equity crisis, the climate crisis, and so much more. So while it’s a dark time, I also feel hopeful about the work that we have ahead of us.”

PT: “Seeing the amount of law enforcement around D.C., tanks on the streets, and everything closed down, is difficult; it’s not just the place we work, it’s the place we’ve lived in for many, many years. But I think there’s no better time to have someone like Joe Biden and like Kamala Harris in the White House than now.”

What are you most excited about accomplishing in the new administration?

KB: “I think we’ve seen in the COVID crisis why government matters, why policy matters. And I think we have a huge opportunity to move the ball forward to contain the crisis and deliver relief to families. It’s exciting to have a role to play in putting policies in place that are going to help people — like my fiancé’s mother, who’s a nurse working throughout this crisis — it’s just a really meaningful and moving thing to be a part of.”

PT: “I have a four-year-old daughter, and I’m looking forward to telling her, ‘This is what actual leadership looks like. This is what a real president looks like. This is what the first female vice president, and the first Black woman and the daughter of immigrants, looks like.’ Also, having a better sense of what normal life is like under a president who has the best interest of the American people at the forefront — that’s something that she’s never seen while she’s been alive. I’m also looking forward to the different policy changes that are coming. I’m looking forward to an immigration bill, in particular, having worked so much in immigration. I’m looking forward to getting back to normal. I think the day my daughter is able to go back to school, I might throw a party — even if it’s just a party of two, my wife and I. I’m looking forward to not having to worry, Is she going to be sick? Do I hire a nanny?

Since you’ve worked with President Biden before, what have been some of your favorite experiences and what are some things you’ve learned?

KB: “I have learned so much from him over the last few years, the way he looks at politics, the way he looks at policy, and his unrelenting focus on the individual. He has this test: If you’re walking him through talking points or a policy idea, he says, ‘Call your brother. If he understands what you just said, then I will do it that way. If he doesn’t, then we’re rewriting it.’ He wants to make sure that everything is accessible and understandable to the American public from a communication standpoint. I’ve also learned from the way he approaches life, that you’re not too good for anyone. Everyone is worth your time.”

PT: “I have worked with him less in-person than Kate has, but one of the things I love the most is the stories he’ll tell, talking about the sayings his dad would say. When I look at my upbringing in Guatemala, we use a lot of sayings. Some of these phrases come from his father and that’s something I value so much. One of the most important people in my life was my father.”

Do you have a favorite saying of Biden’s?

PT: “I think one that in particular resonates very much right now is where he tells the story about his father telling him that you’re going to get knocked down several times, but what’s important is that you get back up. That couldn’t resonate more at this moment for many people across the country and everything that we’re going through.”

What is the toughest part of a communications position?

KB: “You never know what’s going to happen on any given day. Any crisis can happen that we have to respond to. But I love a good plan. Remaining flexible and adaptable for whatever is going to happen is the part that I find the most challenging.”

PT: “For me, the most difficult thing is the fact that you’re always on. That’s something that I struggle with. It’s a blessing and a curse. We can’t afford to miss things. It’s also hard in terms of family life. Last week it was my daughter’s birthday, and I had one headphone in one ear while I was trying to play soccer with her outside.”

KB: “You know, we are hoping the pace will be a little more normal in our administration. At the very least, reporters won’t have to wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what Joe Biden tweeted.”

PT: “We’ll definitely keep you busy. But we promise not to have things be a dumpster fire and the way that they have been all over the place in the past four years.”

KB: “That’s our goal. We’ll keep you busy, but not at 2 a.m.”

Ashley Williams, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Oval Office Operations

Williams served as Trip Director on the Biden-Harris Transition and as Trip Director to the president-elect on the Biden-Harris Campaign, and is the first Black woman to hold this role for a successful presidential candidate. Before that, she worked as an advisor for global women’s issues at the State Department. Williams also served as Senior Assistant to Dr. Jill Biden in the Obama administration.

How are you doing amid this difficult time?

“For me personally, I try to just stay grounded with my family and friends. I also work for two people who truly believe that when Americans come together they can do anything and the possibilities are endless. So I remain optimistic and really hopeful.”

You worked closely with Dr. Biden during the Obama administration. What are your favorite past experiences when it comes to working with her?

“I love Dr. Biden. She is simply the best. I was given the privilege to talk about her in her convention video for the DNC back in August, and I said that essentially we would be getting one of the best humans we have if she were to become first lady, and I truly, from the bottom of my heart, believe that, and I’m so excited that the rest of the country and the world will get to see her magic. One of the things that I admire about her is her passion and her commitment to issues that she holds dear to her heart. The biggest takeaway from my time working with her when she was second lady, when I was just starting my career, was her passion and how she never took any day or opportunity for granted. And I know that’s what she’ll do as first lady.”

Who is somebody else whom you have admired in your career and would consider a mentor?

“Deesha Dyer, who was one of the social secretaries under the Obama administration, who launched a number of initiatives, including a scholarship called Black Girl 44, to provide scholarships for young Black women who are interested in public policy and government. She also recently started an organization called Impact of a Vote, which exposes African-American college students to non-traditional careers and pathways in politics and public service, driven out of a need to provide exposure to these opportunities during the pandemic. I believe investing in mentorship is so critical, and I’ve been invested in by so many people. I believe you should pay it forward, and that’s what I’ve been committed to doing. And I’ve been incredibly blessed and fortunate, I cannot emphasize that enough.”

What are you most excited about accomplishing in the new administration?

“I am an optimist, and the president is an optimist as well. He will oftentimes say that he is a forever optimist. And so I am just really excited about this moment in history. We are at such a pivotal moment and there’s so much opportunity to create so much change. The president ran on uniting this country, in addition to rebuilding the middle class and restoring the soul of this nation. And so I’m excited for that, and I believe profoundly in what he has envisioned for this country.”

Joelle Gamble, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy

Gamble served on the Biden-Harris Transition’s domestic economic policy team. Prior to that, she was Senior Advisor to the President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute and National Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s network for emerging leaders in public policy.

How are you doing amid this difficult time?

“I’m of two minds right now. I’m both really optimistic about where the country can go and also, like many people, saddened and worried by where we are right now.”

How do you believe your past experience will contribute to what you do at the White House?

“As a millennial in the United States, my life has been defined by crises; deep economic crises, climate change, the continual fight for racial justice, have just been constant in my life as a Black woman. And so for me, the need for change has been the default setting, and it’s exciting to be a part of an administration committed to making sure that that change is going in the right direction. Career-wise, I’ve spent my career both in youth organizing and think tanks, which are both things that have prepared me for this new job I’m about to take on.”

Who is somebody who you have admired in your career who has helped shape your worldview?

“My mom has been an inspiration my whole life. As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and then a preschool teacher, she is committed to public service. On the career side, my first boss out of college, Felicia Wong, who was the VP of the Roosevelt Institute, has been a huge, positive influence on my career and shaped how I think about the economy. Thinking about issues of inequality, the racial wealth gap, the importance of market power, the importance of protecting working people, these are all things that I learned under her guidance, and she really helped me develop a passion for economic policy.”

What are you most excited about accomplishing in the new administration?

“Tackling the economic crisis. The president is committed to bold action, including $2,000 payments and increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But one of the biggest challenges, we know right now, is that we are in a K-shaped recovery, which is contributing to inequality. Too many women have dropped out of the labor force, and many people of color are working in sectors that are perennially undervalued. The president is also committed to making sure care workers are paid equitably and have rights in the workplace. I think that it’s really important as we think about the economic recovery that we’re investing in building a clean-energy future and a more equitable future.”

Rosemary Boeglin, Assistant Press Secretary

Boeglin served as a spokesperson for the Biden-Harris Transition and the Biden-Harris Campaign. She previously served as the Northeast Press Secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and as a Deputy Press Secretary for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

How are you doing amid this difficult time?

“I talk to my family and friends often, as often as I can, and I spend most of my days talking to my work family and they’re incredible. So there’s definitely a community and a camaraderie, and I think all of us are focused on the work ahead and what we need to be able to accomplish in the coming weeks and months and years.”

How do you believe your past experience will contribute to what you do at the White House?

“The Bernie campaign was an incredible experience, and the president and Sanders have a really strong relationship. I think it’s been great that they’ve wanted to bring folks from across the Democratic Party into the fold on this team. But I’d say one aspect of my experience that’s helped me get ready for the White House is that I previously worked in New York City Hall and in the Mayor’s Office. The New York City press corps is notorious for being very persistent, I will say. It’s a large and dedicated press corps, and they’re awesome. Cutting my teeth with the amazing reporters in New York City will certainly help when working with a large and dedicated White House press corps.”

Who is somebody who you have admired in your career who has helped shape your worldview?

“One person who comes to mind who deserves a special shoutout is Karen Hinton [former press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio]. When she was my boss, when I first became a ‘real flack,’ she taught me that spokespeople don’t hide behind their computers, and they can’t be afraid to speak with reporters. They have to get out there and talk to them, build relationships, work their own angles. She also just believed in me early on, and I will always be grateful for her for the time she covered for me and totally saved my ass when I was in my early twenties and I overslept my alarm clock and was late to my own event on Staten Island. To this day, I don’t think she’s ever told Mayor de Blasio. And I hope he doesn’t read this!”

Are there any policies the president has laid out that you’re particularly excited about or connect with personally?

“So before I came back to campaign work, I’d taken a little bit of time off to pursue a master’s degree, and that was focused on how to view public policy through the lens of intersectional equity and how to ensure that the way that policy is designed and implemented is thoughtful to rectifying questions of intersectional inequality. The president’s caregiving plan is a really perfect example of that. It’s just been incredible to see how questions of equity are integrated into every single aspect of the agenda, and that this is not a lens that’s added in after the fact, but integrated into the design of all of these policies.”

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