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Keisha Lance Bottoms rejected Biden's SBA offer

Joe Biden implored Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to accept a job heading the Small Business Administration earlier this week, a lesser position she rejected after he characterized it as “only the first step” for her during his presidency, according to people familiar with the discussion.

Why it matters: Biden has pledged to build a Cabinet reflecting America's diversity, but as the number of marquee slots has dwindled — and various constituencies keep clamoring for their own representatives — he is having trouble threading the political needle.

  • Lance Bottoms, a rising African American star and favorite of powerful Rep. James Clyburn, is open to serving in the Cabinet during his term if the role is right, one person told Axios.

Background: Bottoms’ allies describe her as a family-oriented politician — she has four young children — who’s weighing the massive lifestyle change a move to Washington, D.C. would require against the nature of the work she'd be undertaking.

  • While interested in small business development, leading a Cabinet-level agency like SBA was not the right fit for the chief executive of a major city — a position of considerable clout in the New South that Lance Bottoms loves, one person familiar with her thinking told Axios.
  • The Biden transition did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Driving the news: Biden privately met face-to-face with Lance Bottoms when he visited Georgia on Tuesday to campaign for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the two Democratic candidates in pivotal Jan. 5 runoff elections that could flip the Senate majority.

  • During the rally in Atlanta, during which Lance Bottoms sat on stage, Biden said, "Let’s hear it for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the best in the business. Had my back early in this whole deal."
  • Their one-on-one meeting was under an hour and initiated by Biden. It took place outside after the rally, behind the stage.
  • The two had been on stage with Ossoff, Warnock and Stacey Abrams. When the rally finished, Abrams, Warnock and Ossoff were ushered in one direction —and the president-elect and Bottoms in another.
  • While Biden tried to sell SBA to Bottoms as a stepping stone to greater aspirations — he characterized the role as "only the first step" for her on his team — but Bottoms declined, as she had previously to his representatives, one person said.
  • Despite talk that Lance Bottoms had also turned down the ambassadorship to the Bahamas, the SBA job is the only position she’s been offered so far, one person close to the mayor told Axios.
  • This person said Bottoms’ options for a career beyond mayor are open, and hinted at a potential statewide race in her future, depending on how Georgia's Senate and gubernatorial contests shake out.

Lance Bottoms is viewed as a rising star within the Democratic Party, presiding over a large city that’s been rocked by COVID and racial injustice this past year.

  • Biden considered her as his running mate before settling on Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
  • Lance Bottoms also is close to Clyburn, the Democrat who helped deliver pivotal South Carolina for Biden. Clyburn advocated for Lance Bottoms as Biden's running mate, casting her as a “tremendous” pick.

Be smart: Lance Bottoms also was seen as a good candidate to serve as secretary of Housing and Urban Development because of her work leading the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ efforts on the census and housing policy.

  • Biden picked Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who had the strong backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, for that Cabinet job.

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