Friday November 26, 2021
BY: Nathaniel BALLANTYNE
TRUENEWSBLOG – Bad writers need not applied. When people applied to join SUSAN RICE’s staff at the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC), some were surprised at a particular request: a writing sample and it better be good.
Those who got the job soon discovered why. Inside a West Wing already stuffed with briefing papers, Rice stands out for requesting, devouring, and deploying an incredible number of memos, White House officials say.
Briefing memos, information memos, decision memos — she prints most of them out and sticks them in a hefty binder to review. Aides have to prepare extra for Mondays because they know Rice will have spent her weekend reading through the binder and will have follow-up questions.
When other parts of the administration want her to participate in an event, Rice’s team often requests a memo before she says “yes.” If she does agree to take part, she usually asks for another memo to prepare for the event, according to two White House officials.
Aides have had to step-up their writing game as wordiness, along with improper grammar and punctuation, are quickly spotted and marked up. Rice, a veteran foreign policy wonk who’s taken on an entirely new policy portfolio in the Biden White House, is adamant that nothing sloppy should ever end up on the president’s desk.
“A stickler for proper grammar and punctuation, I have a particular pet peeve about proper comma usage,” she wrote in her memoir “Tough Love.”
At one point, her chief of staff at the United Nations had to stop Rice from giving an all-staff seminar on the proper use of comma, as Rice self-deprecatingly recalled in her book. A White House aide also noted she’s a firm defender of the Oxford comma.
“Susan takes this seriously. If she tells you your memo is really good, that’s a big deal,” said ERIN PELTON, who has worked with her for many years. Rice’s deputy at the National Security Council, current Secretary of State TONY BLINKEN, gave her a stamp with the letters “KMBA” on it, to mark any memos she didn’t like. The acronym stood for a common epithet of hers: “kiss my Black ass.” Asked if she uses the stamp, her office said no.
“She is a very sharp writer,” said MEREDITH WEBSTER, her former chief of staff at the DPC. “I did some of my best writing because of her. She’s reading every single piece, and if it stretches to multiple pages it better be useful information and a reason why. If a memo goes into the secretary of State or others, she will read it and edit it and if she has to be the original author, she will.”
While a few people in the West Wing think the former Rhodes Scholar goes overboard on the memos, others credit them for her widely-regarded preparation and her effectiveness in bureaucratic turf battles.
One White House official noted that when Biden starts peppering aides with questions and follow-ups until he’s satisfied or they run out of responses, Rice and deputy chief of staff BRUCE REED are often the last two people ready with answers.
Rice credits RAND BEERS, a mentor at the NSC at the beginning of the Clinton administration, with teaching her to write “coherent, persuasive memos to the president and national security advisor.” Beers explained to West Wing Playbook memo-writing can be such a distinct skill in the executive branch.
“The art form is in many ways the art of bureaucratic politics, as the executive branch internally is political in its own way,” he wrote in a text message. “It is somewhat akin to court politics in the European monarchies. And the memo is how lower level people can demonstrate their excellence to those above and more broadly to others in other departments and agencies.