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Director, White House Office of Presidential Personnel – no confirmation needed

Cathy Russell

by Deedra Abboud in Political, Uncategorized
January 23, 2021 0 comments

Cathy Russell serves as the director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office for President Biden.

The position: Top aide and adviser to the president on presidential appointments.

Catherine M. Russell was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1961 to Paul Russell and Ann (née McCaffery) Russell.

She grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, with four siblings.

Russell graduated from Boston College, magna cum laude, with a degree in philosophy, and received her Juris Doctor from George Washington University.

After law school, Russell began working in Democratic politics.

In 1984, Russell worked on Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign, on which she met her husband, Tom Donilon.

In 1988, Russell worked on Joseph Biden’s presidential campaign.

On Capitol Hill, Russell was Counsel and then Senior Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Technology Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy.

She served as Staff Director to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE).

In that role, Russell worked on the successful passage of the Violence Against Women Act, and the Supreme Court nominations of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Russell later served as Associate Deputy Attorney General to Janet Reno

In 2007, Russell returned to work part-time for then-Senator Biden who was the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. She drafted the International Violence Against Women Act of 2007, modeled on the American legislation Biden introduced in 1994.

Russell is a longtime adviser to both Vice President Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Russell was tapped to serve as chief of staff to then-second lady-elect Jill Biden—a position she held from 2009 to 2013.

In that role, Russell managed the second lady’s staff and worked on her initiatives to increase access to community college education and to support military families, through the Joining Forces program. Russell also oversaw a process to develop the government’s first global gender-based violence strategy.

President Obama nominated Russell for the newly created the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues position in 2009. He made it a permanent ambassador-level position in 2013.

Russell was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on August 1, 2013. Vice President Biden swore her into office on January 17, 2014.

In that role, Russell designed the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Girls, released in March 2014. It enlisted the State Department, USAID, Peace Corps, and Millennium Challenge Corporation to pursue the same goal: “to ensure adolescent girls are educated, healthy, socially and economically empowered, and free from violence and discrimination.”

This marked the first time a country had produced an adolescent girls’ strategy.

Under Russell’s leadership, the Office of Global Women’s Issues worked with Secretary Kerry to secure $7 million for adolescent girls’ empowerment programming in Afghanistan in March 2016.

Her office also worked with USAID and UNICEF to produce a three-year, $5 million program to reduce gender-based violence in schools.

One of Russell’s priorities was ending child marriage globally, which she outlined to the Senate in a 2016 testimony.

As Ambassador, Russell traveled to dozens of countries during her time as Ambassador, including Afghanistan in November 2013 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014. Russell’s first trip was to Bali for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

On September 5, 2020, Russell was announced to be a member of the advisory council of the Biden-Harris Transition Team, which is planning the presidential transition of Joe Biden.

Since 1991, Russell has been married to Thomas E. Donilon, who is the former National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama, and brother of Mike DonilonSenior Advisor to President Biden.

They have two children, Sarah (born 1996) and Teddy (born 1999).

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