Jeff Zients, who led President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response effort and held senior positions in the Obama administration, is expected to replace Ron Klain as the next White House chief of staff, according to three people briefed on the matter. about the subject.
Klain is expected to step down in the coming weeks.
The move to replace Klain is particularly important for Biden, who has entered a critical juncture in both his presidency and his political future. As he continues to weigh whether to seek re-election in 2024, the early stages of a special counsel investigation into the handling of classified documents have rattled Democrats and emboldened Congressional Republicans, who have pledged their own investigations.
While Zients is not seen as a political operative, his deep experience in two administrations and his reputation for technocratic skill would likely serve as assets at a time when both are seen as critical to what Biden faces in the year ahead. Still, he will be tasked with replacing an official who was a central force within the administration — and someone with a relationship developed over decades with Biden himself.
Klain, who had long planned to leave the White House after Biden’s first two years, is targeting the weeks after the Feb. 7 State of the Union address for the end of his term. He is expected to remain in office after his successor takes office to ease the transition, according to people familiar with the matter.
Several senior officials were seen as prime candidates to succeed Klain, including cabinet members and close Biden advisers such as Steve Ricchetti, an adviser to the president, and Anita Dunn, a senior adviser with a broad strategy and communications portfolio.
But while Zients is not among Biden’s inner circle of longtime advisers, he has been deeply connected to the team since the 2020 campaign, when he served as co-chair of Biden’s transition team.
After the election, Biden tapped Zients to lead the administration’s Covid-19 response effort, in what would be one of his most important and highly visible appointments to a team that took office in the country amid a duel of economic crises and of public health.
Though Zients left last spring, he was brought back into White House operations a few months later when Klain asked him to lead planning for the expected turnover within the government that historically follows the first presidential midterm elections.
Zients was tasked with conducting a broad and diverse search for potential non-government candidates to fill cabinet, deputy cabinet and senior management positions, officials said, in an effort that would be closely coordinated with White House colleagues.
But even though large-scale turnover has remained minimal for a government that prides itself on its stability in the first two years, now the official leading the planning effort may soon move into one of, if not the, most critical role defined. to open.
The White House chief of staff is a grueling, all-consuming post in any administration, and Klain’s deep involvement in nearly every key element of process, policy, and policy touching the West Wing has only served to heighten that reality.
A longtime Washington hand with ties to Democratic administrations — and Biden — spanning several decades, Klain is leaving at a moment that officials within the West Wing have spent the last few months seeing as a high point.
Biden entered 2023 on the heels of midterm elections that resulted in an expanded Senate majority for his Democratic Party and in defiance of widespread expectations of massive GOP wins in the House.
The sweeping and far-reaching pillars of Biden’s legislative agenda were largely signed into law, the result of a series of major bipartisan victories combined with successfully navigating intra-party races to secure critical Democratic priorities.
Biden made it clear to advisers that the successful implementation of these laws — which is now beginning to accelerate across the administration — is one of his most critical priorities for the year ahead.
But Klain’s replacement would also inherit a West wing now faced with a new Republican majority in the House that is bracing for a partisan war — and full-scale investigations into the administration and Biden’s family.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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