Biden Looking to Longtime Aide Ron Klain for Chief of Staff
(Bloomberg) -- Longtime Democratic aide Ron Klain is the leading candidate to be presidential nominee Joe Biden’s chief of staff if Biden wins the election, according to several people familiar with the situation.
Klain was Biden’s vice presidential chief of staff and played a leading role in the Obama administration’s economic recovery and the Ebola crisis response.
Allies point to Klain’s Ebola-response and economic-recovery work as especially relevant, given that Biden would be tackling coronavirus and the resulting economic downturn upon taking office. He’s widely respected by Democrats across the party’s ideological spectrum and progressives say they would be comfortable with him in that role.
Others under consideration include Steve Ricchetti, also a former Biden vice presidential chief of staff and chairman of his presidential campaign, and Jeff Zients, a co-chair of Biden’s transition team. But Klain, who first worked for Biden during his short-lived 1987 presidential campaign, has the candidate’s trust and more pertinent experience than anyone else who might be considered for the job, the people said. Another name that has been floated is Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond, an early Biden endorser and campaign co-chair.
The chief of staff oversees the White House staff, controls the flow of information to the Oval Office and negotiates with Congress. It’s generally one of the first jobs that a president-elect fills, setting the tone for a new administration. President Barack Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel in 2008 signaled that he expected to brawl with Capitol Hill while President Donald Trump’s pick of Reince Priebus in 2016 was part of a latent effort by the Republican establishment to rein in the unconventional president-elect.
Biden and the advisers working on his campaign are focused on the election, a Biden aide said.
“The Biden-Harris Transition team is not making any personnel decisions pre-election,” Biden transition spokesperson Cameron French said.
None of the candidates for the job would respond to requests for comment.
In addition to serving as Biden’s chief of staff from 2009 to 2011, Klain was also Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff. Klain also signed onto Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2015 before it was clear that Biden was going to sit out the race, though one person close to Biden said the former vice president has moved past any residual hard feelings.
Ricchetti, however, helped Biden weigh whether to jump in to the field in 2015, while the rest of the Democratic establishment hurried to sign on with Clinton. One person familiar said that that loyalty was keeping Ricchetti in Biden’s sights for the chief of staff job.
Ricchetti’s background as a lobbyist – and his brother’s continued work at an eponymous K Street firm they founded together – almost kept him out of the Obama White House until Biden went to bat for him. It could again prove problematic, as Biden is setting strict revolving door rules for his administration.
Although Ricchetti’s most recent lobbying registrations are from more than a decade ago, progressive activists have made clear they would see Ricchetti’s appointment as a sign of antagonism toward the left and break their carefully negotiated anti-Trump cease fire.
“We think Steve Ricchetti’s career and his family lobbying shop are both inconsistent with Biden achieving the ends he has set out for a Biden administration. We don’t think that a closely nestled with big business White House can deliver the change that Biden is promising,” said Jeff Hauser, founder of the Revolving Door Project, a progressive watchdog group.
Klain has maintained good relationships with leaders and groups on the left.
Waleed Shahid, spokesman for the Justice Democrats, tweeted last week that he hopes Klain gets the job. “As Klain said himself in the primary, the party consensus has moved into a new era,” Shahid wrote.
Zients, who was director of the National Economic Council under Obama, is seen as an outside contender for the job if Biden chooses to follow the model he adopted in bringing in Jen O’Malley Dillon, a well-regarded Obama alumna from outside his immediate circle, to be his campaign manager. Zients was widely praised for his work to salvage the website associated with the Affordable Care Act, healthcare.gov, after a disastrous initial rollout, and was then dubbed “Mr. Fix-it” in the administration.
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