Biden is getting a new chief of staff. Jeff Zients will replace Ron Klain

Jeff Zients is set to become President Biden's next chief of staff. He was Biden's COVID-19 response coordinator until April.
Jeff Zients is set to become President Joe Biden's next chief of staff. He was Biden's COVID-19 response coordinator until April.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Updated January 22, 2023 at 3:01 PM ET

President Joe Biden has selected Jeff Zients as his next chief of staff, choosing his former COVID-19 response coordinator to take over from Ron Klain, who is preparing to leave the White House sometime after the State of Union address on Feb. 7.

The transition comes after two years where the administration notched some significant legislative wins, but ahead of two years of looming investigations from Congress and a special counsel.

The news of the shift came on a weekend rocked by the extraordinary revelation that the FBI had spent more than 12 hours going through Biden's personal belongings in his Wilmington, Del. home, finding more classified documents.

A special counsel probe into the classified documents found in Biden's personal files — some from his years as vice president, others dating back to his time as a senator — is one of the immediate challenges that will face the White House as Zients takes over.

The White House has been criticized for its uneven public disclosure in the matter, even as Biden has been defiant that he has "no regrets" about how the issue has been handled.

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Zients will manage the White House as Biden weighs whether to make good on his intention to seek a second term in office, and as the White House prepares to face a series of congressional investigations on issues ranging from the business dealings and personal problems of Biden's son Hunter, to the migrant crisis at the southern U.S. border.

In this file photo, Jeff Zients — then the COVID-19 response coordinator, stands with other members of Biden's inner circle: adviser Mike Donilon, chief of staff Ron Klain, and adviser Anita Dunn.
In this file photo, Jeff Zients — then the COVID-19 response coordinator, stands with other members of Biden's inner circle: adviser Mike Donilon, chief of staff Ron Klain, and adviser Anita Dunn.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Zients is known for helping White Houses manage through crises

Biden's pick of Zients, first reported by The Washington Post, was confirmed by a source familiar with the decision who spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House has not yet commented on the upcoming departure of Klain. The exact date for the transition is not clear.

Zients led Biden's COVID-19 response until April, overseeing the push to get Americans vaccinated, respond to new variants, distribute tests and masks and make treatments available.

A management consultant before he entered public service during the Obama administration, Zients was the acting head of the Office Management and Budget when he was pulled in to the push to fix the healthcare.gov website in 2013. He later led the National Economic Council for the Obama White House.

Ron Klain walks with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to see President Biden sign the Inflation Reduction Act into law on Aug. 16, 2022.
Ron Klain walks with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to see President Biden sign the Inflation Reduction Act into law on Aug. 16, 2022.
Susan Walsh/AP

Klain helped Biden notch his big legislative wins

Under Klain — a powerful, behind-the-scenes manager who helped protect and promote the president's agenda — the White House notched some significant legislative wins.

Klain worked closely with lawmakers to get sweeping spending bills for COVID aid, infrastructure, semiconductor manufacturing and climate incentives through Congress — and helped Democrats defy the odds and maintain control of the Senate in the midterm elections.

His victories came despite the president's own stubbornly low approval ratings. Klain's leadership was sometimes second-guessed, particularly after the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and amid persistently high inflation.

NPR's Rob Stein contributed to this story.

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