Jeff Zients, who ran President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response effort and served in high-ranking roles 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.
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 moment in his presidency and his political future. As he continues to weigh whether to seek reelection in 2024, the early stages of a special counsel investigation into his handling of classified documents has rattled Democrats and emboldened congressional Republicans, who have pledged their own probes.
While Zients is not viewed as a political operator, his deep experience inside two administrations and his reputation for technocratic skill would likely serve as assets at a time when both are viewed as critical for what Biden faces in the year ahead. Still, he will be tasked with replacing an official who was a central force inside the administration – and someone with a rapport developed over decades with Biden himself.
Klain, who had long planned to depart the White House after Biden’s first two years, has targeted the weeks after the February 7 State of the Union address for the end of his tenure. He is expected to stay in the role after his successor starts in order to ease the transition, according to people familiar with the matter.
A number of top officials had been viewed as top candidates to succeed Klain, including Cabinet members and close Biden advisers such as Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, and Anita Dunn, the senior adviser with a wide-ranging strategy and communications portfolio.
But while Zients isn’t among the tight-knit circle of long-tenured Biden advisers, he’s been deeply intertwined with the team since the 2020 campaign, when he served as co-chairman of Biden’s transition outfit.
After the election Biden tapped Zients to lead the administration’s Covid-19 response effort in what would serve as one of his most consequential and highly visible appointments for a team that entered office with the country amid dueling public health and economic crises.
While Zients left that role last spring, he was once again brought into White House operations a few months later when Klain asked him to lead the planning for the expected turnover inside the administration that historically follows a president’s first midterm elections.
Zients was tasked with conducting a wide and diverse search for prospective candidates outside the administration to fill Cabinet, deputy Cabinet and senior administration roles, officials said, in an effort that would be closely coordinated with White House counterparts.
But even as wide-scale turnover has remained minimal for an administration that has taken pride in its stability in the first two years, now, the official leading the planning effort may soon shift into one of, if not the, most critical role set to open.
The White House chief of staff is a grueling and all-consuming post in any administration, and Klain’s deep involvement across nearly every key element of process, policy and politics touching the West Wing only served to elevate that reality.
A long-time Washington hand with ties Democratic administrations – and Biden – that cross several decades, Klain is departing at a moment that officials inside the West Wing have spent the last several months viewing as a high point.
Biden entered 2023 on the heel of midterm elections that resulted in an expanded Senate majority for his Democratic Party and the defiance of widespread expectations of massive GOP victories in the House.
The sweeping and far-reaching cornerstones of Biden’s legislative agenda have largely been signed into law, the result of a series of major bipartisan wins paired with the successful navigation of intraparty disputes to secure critical Democratic priorities.
Biden has made clear to advisers that the successful implementation of those laws – which is now starting to kick into high gear across the administration – is one of their most critical priorities for the year ahead.
But Klain’s replacement would also inherit a West Wing now faced with a new House Republican majority that is girding for partisan warfare – and wide-scale investigations into the administration and Biden’s family.
This story has been updated with additional information.