Who's who in Joe Biden's inner circle

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WASHINGTON — It’s no secret that Joe Biden has spent most of his life in politics. He was first elected to the Senate when he was just 29 years old, in 1972. And before he became the Democratic nominee for president earlier this year, he’d already run for the White House twice before — in 1988 and again in 2008.

Throughout that time, Biden has amassed a kitchen cabinet of trusted aides and advisers. Some have been with him for decades. Others are relatively new. But all of them could have a hand in shaping what a Biden administration would look like. As the old Reagan-era adage goes, “personnel is policy,” meaning that if you’re wondering what a new president is going to focus on, it’s a good idea to take a look at the people who will be making policy judgments on a day-to-day basis.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the people likely to help Biden lead the country, should he win the upcoming election.

Ron Klain

Ron Klain speaks into a microphone
Ron Klain, former White House Ebola response coordinator, testifies before the House Emergency Preparedness, Response, & Recovery subcommittee on March 10. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

While Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff during his time as vice president, isn’t officially on the campaign payroll, the longtime Biden confidant is still one of his closest advisers and is said to know his strengths and weaknesses more than almost anyone.

Before working directly for Biden, Klain helped President Bill Clinton shepherd through his judicial nominations and later became Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff. He then helped lead the Gore campaign’s efforts in the 2000 Florida recount; that battle, which led to George W. Bush winning the presidency by the narrowest margin in U.S. history, was turned into an HBO movie that starred Kevin Spacey as Klain.

Klain also helped lead Hillary Clinton’s debate prep back in 2016, and reprised that role prior to Biden and Trump’s first debate.

Critically, Klain served as the “Ebola czar” for the Obama administration and successfully helped guide the federal response to containing the outbreak of that virus in 2014 and 2015. And in March of this year, he starred in an ad for Biden criticizing the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Klain was a leading adviser in the last two Democratic administrations. And should Biden beat Trump next month, it would make sense if he once again finds himself in the White House. He’s also reportedly a leading contender for Biden’s White House chief of staff.

Valerie Biden Owens

Valerie Biden speaks at a podium bearing "Biden" sign in front of flags
Valerie Biden Owens, sister of Joe Biden, speaks to supporters at her brother's New Hampshire primary night rally on Feb. 11. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Biden has made his political career something of a family business, keeping his wife, Jill, and his younger sister, Valerie Biden Owens, close by for advice. Biden Owens was just 27 when she ran her brother’s successful first Senate run against an entrenched Republican incumbent.

After trailing his opponent for months, Biden won that election by roughly 3,000 votes. Biden Owens was, by all accounts, instrumental in that first victory of her brother’s career.

Biden’s 2020 campaign is the first of his career not to be directly managed by his sister, but she remains an influential figure. As the election quickly approaches, she’s principally concerned in the shaping of policy and ensuring that message is clearly articulated to voters.

According to the Washington Post, Biden Owens was instrumental in her brother’s decision to reverse his longtime support of the Hyde Amendment during the Democratic primary. That helped him score points with liberal voters worried that Biden, long considered a moderate on social issues, might be unwilling to break with his past.

Symone Sanders

Senior adviser Symone Sanders applauds
Senior adviser Symone Sanders at a campaign event for Joe Biden on Jan. 27 in Iowa City, Iowa. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Political strategist Symone Sanders seems like she’s everywhere — on cable, on radio and on Twitter — as one of Biden’s staunchest defenders and advocates.

In 2016 she worked for Bernie Sanders, the left-wing Vermont senator who wound up as the runner-up for the Democratic nomination in both that election and the one in 2020. Symone Sanders’s decision in 2019 to sign up with the more moderate Biden raised eyebrows at the time, but she quickly became one of the campaign’s leading surrogates.

She often recalls that it was Jill Biden who convinced her to sign on to Biden’s team. Sanders is also one of Biden’s most visible Black advisers, often liaising with members of the national press, providing rapid response for the campaign and advising on policy rollouts.

Symone Sanders’s understanding of the needs and wants of the party’s growing and vocal left wing was also a valuable asset as Biden coalesced progressive support around his candidacy. And she is the youngest member of Biden’s inner circle, as well as the highest-ranking Black member of his staff.

Steve Ricchetti

Steve Ricchetti is another White House veteran in Biden’s circle. He took over from Klain as Biden’s chief of staff during the Obama administration’s second term. Before that, he served as deputy chief of staff of operations for President Clinton. Ricchetti also had a lobbying firm that worked for a few major pharmaceutical companies, among other clients.

Currently the campaign’s chairman, Ricchetti has close ties to Biden that allow him to have insight into his working style in a way that newer aides don’t. He’s also seen as trustworthy and loyal in a world where White House aides routinely leak to the press.

Plus, Ricchetti’s long familiarity with the financial sector could help a Biden administration as it looks to reverse economic losses since the pandemic began. And his Wall Street ties have already paid dividends in the form of his successful fundraising efforts.

Like Klain, Ricchetti is reportedly a leading contender for Biden’s White House chief of staff.

Anita Dunn

Anita Dunn
Anita Dunn, a debate prep adviser for President Barack Obama, in 2012. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Anita Dunn formally joined Biden’s team after a campaign shake-up in the wake of his dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses.

Dunn is a well-known public relations specialist who briefly served as White House communications director in the early days of the Obama administration, when she became close with Biden. She’s currently helping guide the campaign’s communications strategy and is likely to continue assisting the Biden team should he win the presidency.

Mike Donilon

Mike Donilon is another longtime Biden adviser and friend. He’s considered one of the former vice president’s most trusted confidants, and the pair has a long history — he’s been helping Biden as a strategist since 1981. He mostly helps advise Biden on domestic issues and would likely continue in that capacity if brought over to the White House.

When Donilon was appointed counselor to the vice president shortly after the 2008 election, Biden called him one of “the most astute counselors on national affairs that I have ever met — he provided advice that was invaluable on the Obama-Biden campaign in 2008.”

Donilon is a campaign vet, having previously worked for former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder — who, in 1990, became the country’s first Black governor since Reconstruction — and President Clinton. And like much of Biden’s inner circle, he’s helped the candidate prepare for debates in this campaign.

Cover thumbnail photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP


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