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Jeff Zients will replace Ron Klein as White House chief of staff

Jeff Zients will replace Ron Klein as White House chief of staff

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CNN

Jeff Zients, who is running President Joe BidenThe head of the Covid-19 response effort and who held senior positions in the Obama administration is expected to replace Ron Klein as the next White House chief of staff, according to three people briefed on the matter.

It’s Klein is expected to retire in the coming weeks.

Klein’s replacement is especially important for Biden, who has entered a critical moment in his presidency and his political future. As I continue to weigh whether to running for re-election in 2024the early stages of a special counsel investigation into his handling of classified documents alarmed Democrats and emboldened Republicans in Congress, who now hold the majority in the House of Representatives, to promise their own probes.

Biden decided on Zients after an internal survey when it became clear that Klein favored Zients as his successor, a factor that played a large role in the president’s decision. Klein had tapped Zients to lead the talent search for an expected staff turnover after the midterm elections, but that ultimately did not materialize after Democrats performed better than expected. Klein is now the most significant departure and is being replaced by the man he handpicked to help bring in new team members.

A source said Klein will continue to be involved and stay close to The West Wing. Biden’s core political and legislative team — which includes Steve Ricketti, Anita Dunn, Mike Donilon, Jen O’Malley Dillon, Bruce Reid and Louisa Terrell — will continue to advise him. Zients’ new role has been compared to when Jack Lew was Obama’s chief of staff and others, such as David Plouffe, focused more on his policy portfolio.

Additional political talent is expected to join the likely re-election campaign, CNN said.

By replacing Klein with Zients, Biden is turning to a consultant with more business experience than political experience as he enters the third year of his presidency.

The decision to pick Zients surprised some internally, given that there were differences in the management styles of Biden and Zients early in the administration. But Biden was impressed with his work as the coronavirus response coordinator when Zients inherited what officials described as a “largely dysfunctional” effort from the Trump administration.

Another factor in the search was how this period of Biden’s presidency would focus on implementing legislation passed in his first two years, with Zients seen internally as the “executor in chief,” one source said. His operational skills were on display as he handled the coronavirus response and helped launch the failed HealthCare.gov in 2013 during the Obama administration.

Zients already has a closer relationship with Biden and with his senior advisers and numerous cabinet members.

While Zients is not seen as a political operator, his deep experience in two administrations and his reputation for technocratic skills would likely serve as assets at a time when both are seen as critical to what Biden faces next year. Still, he will be tasked with replacing an official who has been a central force in the administration — and someone with a decades-long rapport with Biden himself.

Klein, who had long planned to leave the White House after Biden’s first two years, took aim in the weeks after February 7 State of the Union address for the end of his term.

A number of senior officials were considered top candidates to succeed Klein, including cabinet members and close Biden advisers such as Ricchetti, an adviser to the president, and Dunn, a senior adviser with a broad strategy and communications portfolio.

But while Zients is not among Biden’s close-knit circle of longtime advisers, he is deeply involved with the 2020 campaign team, serving as co-chairman of Biden’s transition team.

After the election, Biden tapped Zients to lead the administration’s Covid-19 response efforts when he took office with the country facing a public health and economic crisis. While Zients left that role last springhe was drawn back into White House operations a few months later when Klein asked him to lead planning for the expected administration turnover that historically follows a president’s first midterm election.

Zients was tasked with conducting a broad and diverse search for prospective candidates from outside the administration to fill cabinet, deputy cabinet and senior administration roles, officials said, in an effort that will be closely coordinated with White House colleagues.

But while large-scale turnover remains minimal for an administration that prided itself on stability in its first two years, now the official leading the planning effort may soon move into one of, if not the most, critical role set open.

White House chief of staff is a grueling and all-consuming position in any administration, and Klein’s deep involvement in nearly every key element of process, politics, and policy affecting the West Wing only served to heighten that reality.

A longtime Washington official with ties between Democratic administrations — and Biden — that span several decades, Klein is leaving at a time West Wing officials have spent the past few months as a high point.

Biden entered 2023 on the back of midterm elections that delivered an expanded Senate majority for his Democratic Party and defied widespread expectations of massive GOP victories in the House.

The broad and far-reaching cornerstones of Biden’s legislative agenda have largely been signed into law, the result of a series of major bipartisan victories combined with successfully navigating intra-party disputes to secure critical Democratic priorities.

Biden made it clear to advisers that successfully implementing these laws — which is now beginning to gain momentum throughout the administration — is one of their top priorities for the coming year.

But Zients will also inherit a West Wing that now faces a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives that is preparing for a partisan war — and wide-ranging investigations into the administration and the Biden family.

This story has been updated with additional information.


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