President Joe Biden has announced that White House chief of staff Ron Klein will step down next week and be replaced by Jeff Zienz, the former Obama administration official in charge of Biden’s Covid-19 response.
Biden said there will be a “formal transition” event at the White House next week to “thank Ron for his tireless efforts and formally welcome Jeff back to the White House in this role.”
Biden praised Klein in a statement Friday morning, saying when he was elected president he “knew” he wanted Klein to be his chief of staff, saying he was “as strong as anyone I’ve ever met. , smart, firm and persistent”.
Regarding Zients, Biden said he “believes that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership as we continue to work hard every day to serve those we have been sent here to serve.”
The announcement confirmed earlier reports by CNN and other news outlets.
In his resignation letter Friday, Klein said serving Biden had been a “quite a long journey,” writing that he joined Biden’s then-Senate staff on the day he returned from his honeymoon 36 years ago.
“The work I’ve done for you has defined my life, both personally and professionally, since leaving and returning to your staff several times since,” Klein wrote to Biden, adding that he ” With gratitude.”
Klein pledged to complete an “orderly transition” of his successor and pledged to “help your campaign in any way I can” if Biden chooses to run for re-election.
“Halfway through your first term — we’ve had two successful years and key decisions will be made over the next two years — it’s the right time to have new leadership on this team,” Klein said. “I’ve served more than eight of the past nine chiefs of staff and have given it my all; now it’s time for someone else to do it.”
Klein touted Biden’s policy record during the first two years of his presidency, compared him to some of the most prominent Democratic presidents of the past century, praised him for “the most significant economic recovery legislation since Roosevelt” and praised his administration of ” The Greatest Nation” at war in Europe since the days of Truman. ”
“You are doing all this during the worst public health crisis since the Wilson era, with the smallest centrist majority of any newly elected Democratic president in a century,” Klein wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has maintained an extremely close relationship with Klein over the past two years, praised his tenure as crucial to “one of the most historic and productive first two years in generations.”
Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke with Zients on the phone before the decision was formally announced and said the two agreed to maintain “a close relationship with the White House chief of staff that I have with Ron.”
“He’s organized, focused, thoughtful, and the right person to lead the Biden administration and make sure the American people see and feel the benefits of these new laws,” said Schumer, who regularly talks with Kline several times a day. See in statement.
In the third year of his presidency, replacing Klain with Zients, Biden is turning to an adviser with more business experience than political background.
The decision to pick Zients came as a surprise to some inside, given the differences in management styles between Biden and Zients early in the administration. But as Zients took over what officials called a “largely dysfunctional” Trump administration, Biden was impressed by his work as coordinator of the coronavirus response.
Zients is expected to focus on running the White House and implementing Biden’s legislative and policy agenda, while other top advisers — namely senior adviser Anita Dunn and White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon — will lead Biden’s political operations as Prepare for re-election.
The balance of power is expected to resemble a split portfolio between then-White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and David Plouffe, a senior adviser to former President Barack Obama, who ran the political operation. Kline is also expected to continue to engage from the outside, and is expected to hire more political advisers.
A White House official touted Zients as having the ideal skills and connections with Biden to lead the White House for a year focused on implementing key parts of Biden’s legislative agenda. Officials cited Zients’ experience as Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator and his roles as director of the National Economic Council and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget under Obama. Zients is also working closely with other top Biden advisers.
Kline’s departure comes at a difficult time for Biden, with a special counsel investigating his handling of classified information as vice president and as the administration and the president’s family face renewed scrutiny by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. An official familiar with Kline’s plans said his decision to resign was unrelated to the ongoing investigation into classified documents discovered in Biden’s private office and Delaware residence, and the decision was made before the special counsel was announced.
Klein has been considering quitting the White House since November’s midterm elections, according to a person familiar with the matter, who he said has been closely watched by White House insiders for clues about his intentions. Klein has been known to email employees all the time and even check gas prices in the middle of the night—a work cadence that many of his colleagues believe is unsustainable in the long run.
Klein himself has publicly — and privately in more detail — pointed out the grueling and exhausting nature of the position. But his entrenched presence in nearly every aspect of the West Wing and his decades-long relationship with Biden made him crucial to the administration’s first two years.
Kline’s departure could herald other changes within the West Wing, as senior staff either pivot to an expected re-election campaign or decide to leave the administration after two years. A talent search process led by Zients has been ongoing to identify potential replacements for the top positions.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.