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Cassandra Butts

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Cassandra Butts

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August 10, 1965New York City, New York, U.S. (

Alma mater
University of North Carolina,Chapel HillHarvard University

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Cassandra Quin Butts (August 10, 1965 – May 25, 2016) was an American lawyer, policy expert, and Deputy White House counsel. On December 23, 2008, Butts was selected by President-elect Obama to serve as Deputy White House Counsel, focusing on domestic policy and ethics. She was also on the advisory board for then-president-elect Barack Obama's presidential transition team. She stepped down as Deputy White House Counsel in November 2009 and served as Senior Advisor in the Office of the Chief Executive Officer at the Millennium Challenge Corporation. In February 2014, Obama nominated her to be the ambassador to the Bahamas, but by February 1, 2015, the Senate had not confirmed her to the post. She was re-nominated to the position on February 5, 2015.


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Born in Brooklyn, New York, Butts moved to Durham, North Carolina, at age 9. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and in 1991 from Harvard Law School where she was a classmate of Barack Obama and the two became close friends.

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Butts' first job was as a counselor at the Y.M.C.A. in Durham, North Carolina. From 1991-1992, Butts worked as a fellow with the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), a nonprofit organization advocating for the rights of low-income and underserved people to access quality healthcare. After college she worked for a year as a researcher with the African News Service in Durham. She was an election observer in the 2000 Zimbabwean parliamentary elections and a counsel to Senator Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania. Butts did litigation and policy work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc, and spent seven years working a senior adviser to US Representative Dick Gephardt of Missouri. She became the Senior Vice President for Domestic Policy at the Center for American Progress.

Deputy White House Counsel

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During her time as Deputy White House Counsel, Butts focused most on judicial nominations. Records later showed that in the days after Associate Justice David Souter announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, Butts was in frequent contact with President Obama's eventual nominee to replace Souter, Sonia Sotomayor.

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Butts also had been rumored in February 2009 to be a candidate to lead the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She also previously had been rumored to be a candidate to serve as United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and as White House Staff Secretary.

Millennium Challenge Corporation

On November 6, 2009, Obama named Butts to serve as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Butts' departure was considered to be one of the highest-level departures up to that point from the office of the White House Counsel, and it was followed one week later by the announcement of the departure of Butts' then-boss, White House Counsel Gregory Craig.

Nomination to be Ambassador to the Bahamas

On February 7, 2014, Butts was nominated by President Obama to be United States Ambassador to the Bahamas. The Senate held a committee hearing on her nomination in May 2014, but took no action the rest of the year, and her nomination lapsed with the end of the 113th United States Congress.

With the new Congress, Obama renominated her to the post on February 5, 2015. The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported her nomination to the full U.S. Senate on May 21, 2015. However, Butts' nomination was blocked by several Republican senators. First, Sen. Ted Cruz placed a blanket hold on all U.S. State Department nominees after he was upset with Obama for the Iran nuclear deal. However, after Cruz lifted those holds, Sen. Tom Cotton then stepped in and once again, to protest an issue unrelated to the specific nominees, blocked Butts' nomination and the nominations of ambassador nominees to Sweden and Norway after the Secret Service had leaked private information about a fellow member of Congress. Cotton later lifted his holds on the nominees to Sweden and Norway, but kept his hold on Butts' nomination. Butts told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni that she had visited Cotton about his objections to her nomination, and Cotton told her that because he knew that Obama and Butts were friends, blocking Butts was a way to "inflict special pain on the president," Bruni wrote. In Bruni's article, a spokeswoman for Cotton did not dispute Butts' account. However, Cotton's spokeswoman did emphasize Cotton's respect for Butts and for her career.

Butts died on May 26, 2016, still awaiting a Senate vote. For several weeks after Butts' death, her nomination had remained pending before the U.S. Senate on its executive calendar. Obama formally withdrew her nomination on June 9, 2016.


Butts was found dead by her sister in her Washington, D.C. home on May 25, 2016. According to a statement from her family she had suffered from a brief illness. Bruni wrote that she had suffered from acute leukemia and had not felt ill until just beforehand.

After her death, Obama reflected on Butts' life in a statement: "To know Cassandra Butts was to know someone who made you want to be better. And Michelle and I were fortunate enough to count her as a friend for most of our adult lives. Cassandra and I met as law students, and we quickly discovered a shared passion for jazz – and for public service. It was a passion she'd chase for the rest of her life — on Capitol Hill, at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and as an advisor of mine — but above all, as a citizen, always pushing, always doing her part to advance the causes of opportunity, civil rights, development, and democracy. Cassandra was someone who put her hands squarely on that arc of the moral universe, and never stopped doing whatever she could to bend it towards justice. We lost her this week, at far too young an age. But along with all her friends and family, we find comfort in the knowledge that all the good she did for so many lives on. She made America better. She made so many lives better, including ours. We admired her so much. And we will miss her deeply."


Cassandra Butts Wikipedia

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