From Reading to the White House: Biden Taps Former Ambassador Cathy Russell For His Team

President Barack Obama congratulates Cathy Russell after he nominated her for the position of Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues at a Women's History Month reception in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

By Patrick Abdalla

November 20, 2020

Catherine Russell was the second Ambassador at-Large for Women’s Issues, and she will be Biden’s White House Director of Presidential Personnel.

President-elect Joe Biden has picked Ambassador Catherine Russell, who grew up in Reading, to be White House Director of Presidential Personnel.

The Office of Presidential Personnel oversees the recruitment and selection process of people to appointments the president makes.

Biden announced the selection in a news release Friday morning.

“I’m proud to name additional members of our team who will help deliver the change America needs in these difficult times. Their dedication to overcoming the challenges facing our country today are rooted in their diverse backgrounds and experiences. They will serve the American people and help build back better, creating a more just, equitable, and united nation,” he said.

Russell, 59, has had a distinguished career in government and politics.

She was the nation’s second United States Ambassador at-Large for Women’s Issues, a position created by the Obama Administration.

“Investing in women, advancing and protecting their rights, is not just the right thing to do morally,” she said during her confirmation hearing. “It is the smart thing to do economically and strategically.”

In that role, she traveled the world, challenging nations to improve their treatment of women and worked with then-Secretary of State John Kerry to achieve those goals.

She also spoke before Congress on issues like child marriage.

“It strips girls of their ability to learn and contribute to their societies and their economies,” she said during that Senate committee hearing.

In an interview with the New York Times after the Senate confirmed her as an ambassador, Biden said, “She’s extremely well connected, in a quiet way.” He touted her support from himself, then-president Obama, and Kerry.

Before Russell became an ambassador, she was Jill Biden’s chief of staff during the first term of the Obama administration.

Russell has also been a resident fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She was also counsel and senior counsel to several senate committees. She helped work on the Violence Against Women Act and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court.

Russell is married to Tom Donilon, the former Obama Administration National Security Advisor. They have two adult children. 


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