Biden names Jeff Zients as new White House chief of staff

Shake-up comes midway through US president’s term, as outgoing Ron Klain resigns citing need for ‘fresh leadership’.

Jeff Zients
The White House chief of staff is one of the most powerful officials in US administrations [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

As he enters the second half of his term, United States President Joe Biden has named Jeff Zients – former COVID-19 US policy coordinator – as the new chief of staff to oversee the operation of the White House.

Biden announced on Friday that Zients will replace Ron Klain, who is resigning after two years on the job.

The shake-up came as the US president faces a divided Congress, in which Republicans control the House of Representatives and Democrats are the majority in the Senate, that will stifle his legislative agenda and likely see him rely more on executive orders to move forward his policy priorities.

White House chiefs of staff have often been among the most powerful officials in the US executive branch. They direct the day-to-day affairs of the White House, manage staff, act as gatekeepers of the president’s office and oversee the implementation of policy.

Biden heaped praise on Klain on Friday while expressing confidence in Zients’s ability to take on the position.

“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Jeff does. A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” Biden said in a statement.

“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.”

During the past two years, Biden signed into law several bills securing trillions of dollars for the country’s infrastructure, energy sector and healthcare system. These funds are now being dispensed on various projects and subsidies under the ultimate supervision of the White House.

In his resignation letter, Klain said it was “the right time for this team to have fresh leadership”.

“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 wrote to Biden.

Zients has extensive experience in the private sector. He has served as chairman and chief executive of The Advisory Board, an education and healthcare consulting company. He was also a managing partner of the investment firm Portfolio Logic. He was chair of the board of directors of Children’s National Medical Center and a board member at Facebook.

He also previously worked as co-chair for Biden’s transition process and in senior positions in the Barack Obama administration.

The White House will host an official transition event next week, Biden announced on Friday. Although it is a cabinet-level position, the White House chief of staff does not require Senate confirmation, so Zients could start his tenure immediately after the handover from Klain.

After suffering from declining approval ratings last year, Biden had bounced back in public opinion polls, and his Democratic Party outperformed expectations in the November midterm elections.

But recently, the US president has been facing controversy after classified government documents were found at his private home in Delaware and former offices at a Washington, DC think tank. The Department of Justice has appointed a special counsel to look into the issue.

Biden has said he intends to seek reelection in 2024, but he has not made his bid formal.

“In closing, if you choose to run in 2024, I look forward to doing whatever I can to help your campaign, as I did for your 1988, 2008, and 2020 campaigns. I will always be a Biden supporter and advocate in whatever I do next,” Klain wrote in his resignation letter.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies