Team Biden has announced that Dana Remus will be Joe Biden’s White House counsel. Remus was general counsel to the Biden campaign. Before that, she was deputy assistant to the president and deputy counsel for ethics in the Obama administration, then general counsel for the Obama Foundation, and then general counsel for Michelle Obama. She was also a law professor at the University of North Carolina.
This is the kind of background I would expect of a White House counsel under Joe Biden, although some experience practicing law outside of government/politics might also have been expected (think of predecessors like Boyden Gray, Bernie Nussbaum, Bob Bauer, and Don McGahn). But Remus also clerked for Justice Samuel Alito. I did not expect Biden’s White House counsel to have that credential.
More surprising, given her subsequent affiliations, is that she has gone to bat for conservatives on occasion. Ed Whelan notes that in a 2013 letter to the Washington Post, Remus strongly defended Alito against what she called a “snide piece” by Dana Milbank that insinuated that Alito has (in Remus’s summary) “some deep and abiding disrespect for women.” Remus responded: “This suggestion is offensive and couldn’t be further from the truth, as his many female clerks can attest.” Alito, she added, “is a good man who serves every day with humility, dedication and incredible intelligence and insight.”
Remus hasn’t just defended her former boss. Whelan also points out that Remus submitted letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of President Trump’s nominations of her co-clerks, Andrew Oldham (Fifth Circuit) and Michael Park (Second Circuit):
Remus endorsed both Oldham and Park “enthusiastically and without reservation” and attested to their outstanding characteristics: “There is not a lawyer in the country that a Republican President could nominate with greater ability, character, and potential to uphold the quality, integrity, and legitimacy of the federal judiciary than Mr. Park.” And: “Mr. Oldham has the ability, character, and temperament to be an excellent federal circuit court judge.”
The Left vehemently opposed the nominations of Oldham and Park. Both were confirmed without the vote of a single Democratic Senator.
Politico suggests that “Remus’ experience clerking for Alito in 2008. . .could prove especially valuable to the Biden administration as it gears up for repeated clashes with the Court’s 6 to 3 conservative majority in the years ahead.” But the Supreme Court isn’t the Senate. It’s not so “transactional.” Thus, while I imagine that Alito is happy to see Remus advance to such a lofty position, I doubt that he will moderate any view of the law on account of it.
The White House counsel position is among the most difficult and contentious jobs in government. He or she typically takes a lead role in the nastiest legal disputes an administration finds itself fighting. Biden must be confident that, notwithstanding her past friendly relations with conservatives, Remus is a capable street fighter when the chips are down. Presumably, the job she did as counsel to his campaign supports that confidence.
If the confidence is misplaced, Remus won’t last long as White House counsel.