Washington: US President Joe Biden on Friday appointed his long-term aide Jeff Zients, a former Obama administration official who ran his massive Covid-19 response operation, as the new White House Chief of Staff.
Zients will replace Ron Klain, who has served in the position for over two years now.
Biden said that an official transition ceremony would be held at the White House next week.
The transition is the first major personnel change for an administration that has had minimal turnover at its highest ranks and throughout the Cabinet.
“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,” he said.
Zients, 56, will be tasked with shepherding White House operations at Biden’s pivotal two-year mark, when the Democratic administration shifts from ambitious legislation to implementing those policies and fending off Republican efforts to defang the achievements.
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 Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at his former institute in Washington, which has triggered a special counsel investigation, Associated Press reported.
Biden said he has known Klain since he was a third-year law student.
“He came to work for me on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I knew the moment he started that he was a once-in-a-generation talent with a fierce and brilliant intellect. Just as important, he has a really big heart,” he said.
During the last 36 years, the president said he and Klain have been through some real battles together.
“And when you’re in the trenches with somebody for as long as I have been with Klain, you really get to know the person. You see what they’re made of,” he said.
“When I was elected President, I knew that I wanted Klain to lead the White House staff. He was uniquely qualified given his prior public service. He knows how the government works, how politics works, how Congress and the White House works,” Biden said.
The president described Klain as tough, smart, determined, and persistent as anyone he has ever met.
He assembled the most diverse and the most talented White House team in history and leaned on them to solve impossible challenges, Biden said.
“Working together, we have made incredible progress fighting COVID, reviving our economy, rebuilding our infrastructure, and winning the confirmation of almost 100 federal judges, including the first Black woman on the United States Supreme Court. We have taken big steps to tackle climate change, advance civil rights, and address student debt. We’ve been reasserting America’s place in the world, and maybe most important of all restoring faith in our democracy,” he said.
“This progress will be the legacy of this White House team, working under Klain’s leadership,” Biden said, adding that the real mark of Klain’s success is that he is beloved by the team he leads here at the White House.
Biden argued, it is important to fill Klain’s shoes with someone who understands what it means to lead a team, and who is as focused on getting things done.
“I’ve seen Jeff Zients tackle some of the toughest issues in government. When I was the Vice President, I first got to know him at the beginning of the Obama-Biden Administration, working closely on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act implementation as Zients was a leader at the Office of Management and Budget,” he said.
“He was later handed the daunting and complicated task of fixing healthcare.gov, which he did successfully, helping get millions of Americans quality, affordable health insurance,” Biden added.
Biden talked about Zient’s contribution towards the American administration.
“He led the National Economic Council, and shares my focus on strengthening our economy to work for everyone. He helped manage our Administration’s transition into office under incredibly trying circumstances. Thanks to Zients, we had a historically diverse team in place on Day 1 ready to go to work. And he led our COVID response, a massive logistical undertaking of historic proportions,” he said.
“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Zients does. A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” said the US president.