President Joe Biden has named Julie Chavez Rodriguez as his 2024 campaign manager. The news comes as Biden announced his bid for reelection on Tuesday morning.
Chavez Rodriguez embodies some of the most defining features of the president’s contemporary posture.
In one sense, Chavez Rodriguez is a Washington veteran. She is currently serving as the senior adviser and assistant to Biden, as well as the director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Before that, she served as deputy campaign manager for the Biden-Harris campaign, as well as national political director and traveling chief of staff for Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign.
Before the 2020 campaign season, Chavez Rodriguez worked in Harris’s Senate office, in the Obama administration, and in the Interior Department, including as the director of youth employment. All to say, she is a longtime fixture within the government—like her boss.
Biden’s lengthy presence in government has garnered trust, through a sense of reliability and relationship-building. It has also attracted scrutiny, in terms of all the undesirable outcomes he has tolerated or even advanced. Chavez Rodriguez’s own trajectory mirrors the dynamic.
Chavez Rodriguez began her advocacy as a child, knocking on doors and handing out leaflets with her grandfather, Cesar Chavez, in support of organizing farmworkers. According to the Los Angeles Times, Chavez Rodriguez and her cousins were around the famed organizer and patriarch so much, they joked that while others would go on family picnics, they’d be busy at family pickets.
After high school and on breaks from university, Chavez Rodriguez worked in AFL-CIO union summer programs. She worked with the United Farm Workers to organize strawberry pickers. She later worked for eight years as a program director at the Cesar Chavez Foundation, advocating for Latino and working families, before transitioning into volunteering for Obama’s campaign and then soon finding a job in the administration.
Besides her famed grandfather, Chavez Rodriguez’s mother, Linda—Cesar Chavez’s daughter—was active in organizing as a farmworker herself. Linda’s husband, Arturo, Chavez Rodriguez’s father, was just as active, serving as president of the United Farm Workers for 25 years.
While Chavez Rodriguez has deep roots in organizing and advocacy, her long arc serving in government has brought her to defend positions that may not offer confidence for what a fully progressive agenda looks like. In 2014, for example, when Obama faced criticism for operating as the “deporter in chief,” Chavez Rodriguez was serving as deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement, focusing specifically on Obama’s immigration reform efforts. She was tasked with overseeing outreach to Latino communities.
Chavez Rodriguez invoked her grandfather’s memory while explaining her role in defending Obama’s approach to immigration. “My grandfather helped me to understand that change isn’t immediate,” she told the LA Times. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It does take a lot of time and sacrifice. It takes consistent, sustained organizing and pressure to be able to see great progress in our country.”
“There’s no turning back,” Chavez also once said. “We will win. We are winning because ours is a revolution of mind and heart.”
Chavez Rodriguez, like many campaign staffers, is but one cog in a larger machine. But in many ways, personnel does matter, or at least indicates the priorities of a politician. Since Ron Klain’s departure and Jeff Zeints’s empowerment as chief of staff, for instance, Biden has swung substantially right on a range of issues, from approving the overturning of Washington, D.C.’s criminal codes and proposing Trumpian immigration restrictions to greenlighting the Willow pipeline project.
While Chavez Rodriguez holds deep ties to labor and immigrant rights, she also has been in the tough position of having to defend officials who have fallen short of honoring those causes. She certainly has her own agency, and Biden’s trust in her may offer confidence in the direction he’d like his campaign to go; but it still depends on who else surrounds her and how much her being picked is about her actual work, rather than simply the succession of someone who has been in government for a long time.
To this day, Biden has a bust of Chavez in the Oval Office in commemoration of the famed labor leader. It will soon become apparent whether he will now welcome the full spirit of his granddaughter, or if he’ll simply prop Chavez Rodriguez up to shield off criticism—just as he has kept her grandfather’s statue in full view while lurching to the right.