Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain is getting ready to step down after 2 years

White House chief of staff Ron Klain speaks during a TV interview on the driveway of the White House on March 1, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

White House chief of staff Ron Klain speaks during a TV interview on the driveway of the White House on March 1, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain is preparing to leave the White House, 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 New York Times and other media outlets reported Klain’s impending departure just hours before the extraordinary revelation that the Department of Justice had spent more than 12 hours going through Biden’s personal belongings in his Wilmington, Del. home, finding more classified documents.

It’s not clear who Biden will choose to take over for his longtime adviser Klain, who is expected to hand over the reins sometime after the State of the Union address, slated for Feb. 7.

Klain has been a powerful, behind-the-scenes manager who helped protect and promote the president’s agenda. 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.

Klain’s departure comes as the president weighs whether to make good on his intention to seek a second term — and as the White House prepares to face a series of congressional investigations from Republicans who now control the House of Representatives 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.

Also looming is the special counsel probe into Obama-era classified documents found in Biden’s personal files. 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.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain walks to the South Lawn of the White House
Klain walks to the South Lawn of the White House to attend an event celebrating the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court in Washington on Apr. 8, 2022. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Klain advised Biden on his strategy for the midterms

Chris Whipple, who has studied White House chiefs of staff, said Klain stands out as one of the most successful in recent history.

“White House chiefs usually get all of the blame and none of the credit for things that presidents do. That just goes with the job,” said Whipple, who spoke with Klain extensively for his new book called The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House. “Ron deserves a lot of credit for what has happened.”

“His greatest asset is his relationship with Joe Biden,” said Whipple. “You have to be able to work closely with the president. You have to be able to manage him. You can’t really be too close to him. You can’t be a friend because you have to be able to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear in a decisive moment. And that’s a very fine balancing act. And I think Ron Klain has been able to do it.”

One of those moments came ahead of the 2021 midterm elections, when Biden wanted to “go everywhere and talk about everything, essentially,” to try to help his party win, Whipple said. Instead, Klain and Biden’s political team convinced the president to focus on a narrow list of states and two main issues — reproductive rights, and the threat posed to democracy by ‘MAGA Republicans.’

Klain felt vindicated by the election results, Whipple said, describing an email he received from the chief of staff at 1:16 a.m. after it was clear Democrats did far better than expected. “Maybe we don’t suck as much as people thought,” Klain said in that email.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., arrives followed by White House chief of staff Ron Klain
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)

There was a point where Klain almost quit

The job of chief of staff is all-consuming. “There’s a reason why the average tenure of a White House chief is 18 months,” Whipple said.

In October 2021, a low point in Biden’s presidency when it seemed that his push for his ‘Build Back Better’ agenda had failed, Klain wanted to quit, Whipple said. Biden was on his way to the UN climate summit in Glasgow, empty-handed, when Whipple visited Klain at the White House.

“Ron said to me at that point that he was exhausted and he was thinking about leaving,” Whipple said. “That’s how relentless and grueling and exhausting that job can be.”

But Klain’s wife Monica Medina — a high-ranking State Department official who works on climate and environment portfolios — convinced him to stay on, Whipple said. He said Klain concluded he needed to see Biden through the midterms.

How Klain kept the trains running

Klain, 61, is a native of Carmel, Ind. He is known for rarely sleeping, but does not drink coffee — he prefers Diet Coke, since his favorite cola TaB is no longer made. And he tweets at all hours, describing Twitter as his “hobby.”

“One of the roles of a chief of staff, is to essentially catch the javelins that are thrown the president’s way,” said David Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Akron who has studied the role.

“And that’s one thing that Ron Klain uses Twitter for — is to protect the president and to and to defend him and to promote him.”

Klain is widely respected in Democratic circles, but often reviled on the right, with some Republicans referring to him as “Prime Minister Klain” — suggesting he was the unelected powerful puppet master pulling the strings behind Biden.

Klain himself dismissed those accusations. In a podcast interview in the summer of 2021, he insisted he was a “staff person.”

“My goal is really to try to help get the staff organized and moving in a direction where we’re helping the president be effective,” Klain told Kara Swisher on her show, Sway.

But Klain’s most effective attribute was simply in being a “train conductor … making sure the trains run on time,” Cohen said.

“It’s a job that doesn’t get a whole lot of acclaim because it’s essentially a process-manager type job. But when the process doesn’t work and things go off the rails, that can be very disastrous for a president,” said Cohen.

There were few leaks in the Klain era

Klain was seen as a stabilizing, traditional chief of staff after the four years and four chiefs of staff in the Donald Trump administration.

He was also known to run a tight ship with limited leaks. He was more prepared for the job than most, having worked under nine former chiefs of staff, and having served as the chief of staff to two vice presidents: Al Gore from 1995-1999 and Biden himself from 2009-2011.

He had worked for Biden on and off for decades, starting his political career as an intern in Biden’s Senate office.

And his political experience dovetailed with the administration’s immediate priorities upon entering the White House — the dual challenges of tackling the coronavirus pandemic and an economic recovery.

In 2009, Klain was chief of staff to then-Vice President Biden, and was tasked with helping oversee the massive Obama stimulus program. Then, in 2014, he was the point person for the Obama White House during an Ebola outbreak.

Soon after stepping into this new role, in the spring of 2021, he helped usher in a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. He went on to help Democrats pass laws to invest in infrastructure, aid veterans and boost semiconductor manufacturing. Perhaps his biggest legislative accomplishment, though, was ensuring Democrats passed Biden’s signature plan to invest in climate and health care, known as the Inflation Reduction Act — despite the many hiccups, false starts and detours.

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