President Joe Biden is expected to appoint Jeff Zients, the Covid czar for the first part of the administration, as White House Chief of Staff to replace Ron Klain.
President Joe Biden is expected to appoint Jeff Zients, who served as Covid-19 response coordinator during the first few months of the administration, as White House Chief of Staff to replace Ron Klain after he departs the administration in the coming weeks.
- Zients coordinated the administration’s Covid-19 policy response from Jan. 2021 until his departure in April of last year. He quietly returned to the White House last fall to oversee post-midterm staff changes. Zients previously served as a top economic advisor in the Obama administration.
- Zients earned internal praise for the logistical and organizational know-how he demonstrated as Covid czar. He will take over as Chief of Staff while the administration is being buffeted by the escalating classified documents scandal, investigations from Congress, and economic headwinds.
- The new White House chief of staff has a reputation as “Mr. Fix-It” in Democratic circles after handling several high-profile policy briefs in the Obama and Biden administrations tackling economic, budget, and Covid issues.
- Biden views Zients as a “master implementer,” according to Politico, and will have him “manage the day-to-day workings of the White House.” Other advisors are expected to take on the political challenges of working with Congress, handling the special counsel investigation, and preparing Biden’s likely 2024 reelection campaign.
- The position of White House Chief of Staff is one of the most powerful posts in the federal government, is responsible for implementing the president’s agenda, hiring White House staff, and running the day-to-day operations of the West Wing.
- The role tends to have a high burnout rate – Trump and Obama each cycled through four chiefs of staff – so Klain’s relative staying power – two-plus years in the role – is notable.
- Klain earned the distinction of longest serving first chief of staff for any Democratic president and previously held powerful staff roles in the Clinton and Obama administrations.
- While Biden leans on Zients to keep the government running, he is expected to rely on other advisors to take on the chief of staff’s traditional political portfolio. The New York Times reported Anita Dunn, Steven Ricchetti, Mike Donilon, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, and Bruce Reed are expected to pick up the slack, although whether this will be a formal organizational change or a more informal arrangement isn’t yet clear.
- The Washington Post reported that after Zients’ return to the White House last fall, Klain began assigning him different projects in an apparent effort to prepare him for his new role.
- According to CNN, Zients is viewed internally as more of a management consultant than a political operator. His operational skills – notably his time rescuing Healthcare.gov after its botched launch in 2013 – are expected to be necessary to help implement the large spending packages enacted in Biden’s first two years.
- Fox News covered the negative response the Zients appointment received among certain left-wing voices. Left-wing Zients critics disapproved of his “corporate past and the massive wealth” he’s earned in the private sector. Zients disclosed holding between $89.3 million and $442.8 million in assets when he joined the Biden administration in early 2021.
- The Wall Street Journal delved into Zients’ business background. The incoming chief of staff has served on the board of Facebook, was a top executive with investment holding company Cranemere Group, and spent most of his career in the private sector outside of government.
- Breitbart noted Zients was Klain’s preferred successor. Klain’s exact departure date is still unclear at this point – he is expected to depart sometime after Biden delivers the State of the Union address on Feb. 7.
© Dominic Moore, 2023