Jeff Zients: Joe Biden announces his next White House chief of staff

US President Joe Biden has announced Jeff Zients as his next White House chief of staff, choosing an experienced technocrat who headed his administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The move comes as Mr Biden prepares for a re-election bid while facing an onslaught of investigations from a newly empowered House Republican majority.

Mr Zients succeeds Ron Klain, a long-time fixture in Mr Biden’s political orbit who led the White House through its highs – passage of consequential legislation such as the massive infrastructure Bill and the Democrats’ climate, healthcare 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 US troops from Afghanistan.

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The transition is the first major personnel change for an administration that has had minimal turnover at its highest ranks and throughout the cabinet.

Joe Biden has announced Jeff Zients as his next White House chief of staffJoe Biden has announced Jeff Zients as his next White House chief of staff
Joe Biden has announced Jeff Zients as his next White House chief of staff

“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,” Mr Biden said in a statement.

Mr Zients, 56, will be tasked with shepherding White House operations at Mr 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.

Mr Zients 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 Mr Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at his former institute in Washington, which has triggered a special counsel investigation.

Mr Klain, in his resignation letter to Mr Biden, said it was the “right time” for a transition.

“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.”

Mr 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 Mr Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.

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Presidential counsellor Steve Ricchetti, senior adviser Mike Donilon and deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed will continue in Mr Biden’s inner circle, while Mr Klain, a long-time Democratic operative, will continue to advise and be involved from the outside.

Through both the Obama and Biden administrations, Mr 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 autumn 2013.

Then-president Barack Obama also chose Mr Zients in 2009 to eliminate the backlog in applicants for the Cash for Clunkers programme, which offered rebates to drivers who swapped old cars for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Mr Zients later took on a similar challenge to smooth sign-ups for an updated version of the GI Bill.

He was vice chairman of Mr 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.

As Covid-19 co-ordinator, Mr Zients led the effort that administered more than 220 million vaccinations in Mr Biden’s first 100 days, while shoring up the nation’s supply of therapeutics and tests and distributing them.

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