How the Most Powerful Latina in the White House Helps Biden—and Harris Too

Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the granddaughter of labor icon Cesar Chavez and an Obama administration veteran, is joining President-elect Joe Biden's senior White House team as the director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, his transition team announced Tuesday.

The other senior hires are Anthony Bernal, senior adviser to Jill Biden, Mike Donilon, senior adviser to the president, Dana Remus, counsel to the president, Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon, Jill Biden's chief of staff, and Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president. They join Jen O'Malley Dillon, the new deputy chief of staff, and Cedric Richmond, senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

"I am proud to announce additional members of my senior team who will help us build back better than before," Biden said in a statement. "America faces great challenges, and they bring diverse perspectives and a shared commitment to tackling these challenges and emerging on the other side a stronger, more united nation."

Chavez Rodriguez, who served as deputy campaign manager for Biden and previously was a senior advisor to Senator Kamala Harris' presidential campaign before she joined Biden as his running mate, brings a wealth of political experience that was forged, first and foremost, as an organizer.

By age 10, she was handing out union leaflets and had been detained at a boycott. In her previous White House role as deputy director of public engagement, senior policy adviser and special assistant to President Barack Obama, she helped develop support for his immigration agenda, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She also oversaw engagement with immigrant, Muslim, Latino, and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as veterans, LGBTQ, education, labor and progressive groups.

Then, as the Trump era began, she went back home to California to help immigrant communities dealing with the legal fallout of the Muslim ban. She served as California state director and senior adviser to Harris, where she was the key representative to the senator for constituents and elected leaders throughout the state.

"Julie is the emblem of what it means to be a public servant, as her entire career has been about fighting for justice and equality, and it's really exciting that she's been elevated to this role," said Sergio Gonzales, a former Harris senior adviser.

As the director of intergovernmental affairs, Chavez Rodriguez will serve dual roles, Democrats said, both as a gatekeeper to the Biden administration for the elected officials in states and cities making proposals to the White House and as a window to local communities, so the administration can receive feedback and best implement its policies.

"It's going to be a big job because so many states and localities and cities are in pain right now due to the crisis," Gonzales said, speaking of the worsening coronavirus pandemic the Trump administration has been unable to control.

While Chavez Rodriguez will fill the role of a key adviser to Biden, those who spoke with Newsweek noted an additional political consideration as well.

"It would put Kamala Harris in a perfect position to develop relationships with local governments and local elected officials to figure out who is on board early with Kamala 2024," a top Democratic strategist said.

"There's no question about that," said Maria Cardona, a veteran Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator. "This will be a boon for the vice president should she want to run in 2024 or 2028. Kamala is going to be the consummate team player for Biden, fully supporting him, but whatever relationships Julie is able to garner and nurture will also be Kamala's and not just if she decides to run for president but also as vice president."

Nathaly Arriola, an Obama White House alumna, who helped advise the Biden campaign on paid media strategy, sought to tamp down any political reverberations regarding the hire.

"To say it's good for Kamala, that's fair, but it's also great for Biden, where she will be a trusted adviser," she said.

While Chavez Rodriguez did not respond to a Newsweek request for comment, she laid out some of her broad personal priorities in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News after the Democratic Convention in August.

She said she wants to work on DACA and immigration reform again, expand the Affordable Care Act and also help modernize digital infrastructure in rural communities. "Those are my end goals," she said.

Julie Chavez Rodriguez
Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris talks with her aide Julie Chavez Rodriguez during the Asian and Latino Coalition event on August 10, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. Justin Sullivan/Getty