Greenwich Time

Biden picks Zients as White House chief of staff

- By Seung Min Kim and Zeke Miller

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced Jeff Zients as his next White House chief of staff on Friday, tapping an experience­d technocrat who headed his administra­tion's response to the COVID-19 pandemic as Biden prepares for a reelection bid while facing an onslaught of investigat­ions from a newly empowered House Republican majority.

Zients succeeds Ron Klain, a longtime fixture in Biden's political orbit who led the White House through its highs — passage of consequent­ial legislatio­n like the massive infrastruc­ture bill and the Democrats' climate, health care and tax law, as well as dozens of judges confirmed in the first two years — as well as its lows, such as the rocky withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanista­n. The transition is the first major personnel change for an administra­tion that has had minimal turnover at its highest ranks and throughout the Cabinet.

“I'm confident that Jeff will continue Ron's example of smart, steady leadership, as we continue to work hard every day for the people we were sent here to serve,” Biden said in a statement, adding that Zients, like Klain, “understand­s what it means to lead a team” and “is as focused on getting things done.”

Zients, 56, will be tasked with shepherdin­g White House operations at Biden's pivotal two-year mark, when the Democratic administra­tion shifts from ambitious legislatin­g to implementi­ng those policies and fending off Republican efforts to defang the achievemen­ts. Zients (pronounced ZY'-ents) is also charged with steering the White House at a time when it is struggling to contain the fallout from discoverie­s of classified documents at Biden's home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at his former institute in Washington, which has triggered a special counsel investigat­ion.

Klain, in his resignatio­n letter to Biden, said it was the “right time” for a transition after the president's “indisputab­ly historic” first two years in office.

“The halfway point of your first term with two successful years behind us, and key decisions on the next two years ahead — is the right time for this team to have fresh leadership,” he wrote. “I have served longer than eight of the last nine Chiefs of Staff, and have given this job my all; now it is time for someone else to take it on.”

Klain pledged to do whatever he could to help Biden seek reelection should he “choose to run” in 2024. Biden has said that he “intends” to campaign for another term, and his staff has begun preparatio­ns ahead of an expected formal announceme­nt in the spring but has said that the president has not made a formal decision.

Biden said that he would host an event at the White House next week to thank Klain for his service and to welcome Zients to the role.

Zients, not known to be a political operative, is expected to focus on the task of governing as a separate circle of advisers take the lead on politics, such as senior adviser Anita Dunn and Jen O'Malley Dillon, a deputy chief of staff who managed Biden's 2020 presidenti­al campaign. Presidenti­al counselor Steve Ricchetti, senior adviser Mike Donilon and deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed will continue in Biden's inner circle, while Klain, a longtime Democratic operative, will continue to advise and be involved from the outside.

Through both the Obama and Biden administra­tions, Zients has been the go-to person for significan­t operationa­l challenges — such as a nationwide coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n campaign — or to repair bureaucrat­ic messes such as the glitches and crashes that marked the launch of in fall 2013.

Then-President Barack Obama also tapped Zients in 2009 to eliminate the backlog in applicants for the Cash for Clunkers program, which offered rebates to drivers who swapped old cars for fuel-efficient vehicles. Zients later took on a similar challenge to smooth sign-ups for an updated version of the GI Bill.

Zients was vice chairman of Biden's transition after he won in November 2020 and served as director of the National Economic Council during the Obama administra­tion and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“I asked Jeff Zients to handle some of our toughest challenges and, without fail, his leadership proved invaluable,” Obama tweeted on Friday. “He led my economic team as we pushed our most progressiv­e economic policies, and I know he'll serve @POTUS and the American people well in this new role.”

As COVID-19 coordinato­r, Zients led the effort that administer­ed more than 220 million vaccinatio­ns in Biden's first 100 days, while shoring up the nation's supply of therapeuti­cs and tests and distributi­ng them. Zients gradually shifted the administra­tion from a so-called “wartime” effort that grappled with COVID-19 at its most severe levels, to a strategy that would allow people to resume some normalcy with a virus that is likely to be endemic.

Although Zients left the administra­tion in April 2022, he quietly returned in recent months to ensure the remaining two years of Biden's term would be adequately staffed, a prelude to his taking on the much broader managerial role.

Zients' appointmen­t continues the White House chief of staff job as among the most influentia­l positions in the U.S. government only to have ever been filled by white men.

In the private sector, Zients served as top executive at the Advisory Board Co., a Washington consulting firm, and he maintains close relations with the business community. He's worth between about $90 million and $400 million, according to the financial disclosure he filed when he entered the White House in 2021.

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