Ron Klain Expected to Step Down as Biden’s White House Chief of Staff

WASHINGTON — Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff who has steered President Biden’s administration through two years of triumphs and setbacks, is expected to step down in coming weeks in the most significant changing of the guard since Mr. Biden took office two years ago.

Mr. Klain has been telling colleagues privately since the November midterm elections that after a grueling, nonstop stretch at Mr. Biden’s side going back to the 2020 campaign, he is ready to move on, according to senior administration officials, and a search for a replacement has been underway.

The officials, who discussed internal matters on condition of anonymity, would not say whether a successor has already been picked or when the decision would be announced, but indicated that it would come at some point after the president outlined his agenda for the coming year in his State of the Union address on Feb. 7. Mr. Klain likely would stay around for a transition period to help the next chief settle into the corner office that has been his command post for many crises and legislative battles.

His resignation would be a striking moment of turnover at the top of an administration that has been relatively stable through the first half of Mr. Biden’s term, and Mr. Klain takes pride that he has lasted longer than any other Democratic president’s first chief of staff in more than half a century. But with Mr. Biden expected to announce by spring that he is running for re-election, advisers predict more moves as some aides shift from the White House to the campaign.

The departure would also come at a time when the White House faces a widening array of political and legal threats from a newly appointed special counsel investigating the improper handling of classified documents and a flurry of other inquiries by the newly installed Republican majority in the House. The next chief of staff will be charged with managing the defense of Mr. Biden’s White House and any counterattack as the 2024 election approaches.

Among the possible choices to replace Mr. Klain mentioned by senior officials are Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh; former Gov. Jack A. Markell of Delaware, now serving as ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden; Steven J. Ricchetti, the counselor to the president; Jeffrey D. Zients, the administration’s former coronavirus response coordinator; Susan Rice, the White House domestic policy adviser; and Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture.

Neither Mr. Klain nor any of those named as possible candidates to succeed him had any immediate comment on Saturday in response to messages. Ms. Dunn has flatly ruled out taking the job in conversations with colleagues.

Mr. Klain has been a singularly important figure in Mr. Biden’s administration. Having worked for Mr. Biden off and on for more than three decades, admirers say that Mr. Klain channels the president as few others can. He is seen as so influential that Republicans derisively call him a virtual prime minister and Democrats blame him when they are disappointed in a decision.

For all the crossfire, Mr. Klain helped rack up an impressive string of legislative victories, including a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan, a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure program, the largest investment in combating climate change in history and measures to expand benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, lower prescription drug costs for seniors, spur development in the semiconductor industry and create a minimum 15 percent tax rate for major corporations.

Mr. Klain also helped oversee the distribution of vaccines that have curbed if not ended the Covid-19 pandemic and the enactment of a plan to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars of student loan debt for millions of Americans. And he set the tone for the White House message to the world through an active Twitter account that he used to promote victories and jab critics.

On Friday, for instance, he chided Republicans for their approach to federal spending. “How extreme is the House GOP plan to cut Social Security and Medicare?” he wrote. “So extreme that even Donald Trump is saying, ‘Hey, that’s too extreme for me!’”

He also reflected on the second anniversary of Mr. Biden’s inauguration. “Two hard years,” Mr. Klain wrote. “So much to be done. But so much progress.”

At the same time, Mr. Klain has presided over a rash of troubles that have drained public support for Mr. Biden. While unemployment has remained near record lows and job creation was robust, inflation reached its highest rate in 40 years, gas prices shot up to an all-time high, economic growth stalled for a time and illegal immigration at the southwestern border surged to record levels.

Likely as a result, Mr. Biden’s approval rating has been mired in the low 40 percent range for more than a year. But Mr. Klain is preparing to leave at a moment when gas prices have come back down, inflation is falling and Mr. Biden’s political standing has recovered somewhat after better-than-expected midterm elections.

“He is a truly unique chief of staff,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution who studies administration personnel. Mr. Klain’s broad experience in multiple administrations as well as on Capitol Hill, his reputation for managing tough political challenges and his long history with Mr. Biden made him the most important figure in the White House besides the president.

“Finding a successor who encompasses all of those skills will not be easy and may well be impossible,” Ms. Tenpas said. “They are headed into a re-election campaign that also increases Ron’s value in that he has campaign experience and political skills. In addition, the chief of staff’s Capitol Hill experience could come in handy as they confront divided government.”

By this point in his presidency, Donald J. Trump was already on his third chief of staff and his third national security adviser and had lost more than half of his original 15 cabinet secretaries. By contrast, none of Mr. Biden’s statutory cabinet members have left. In fact, even Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who some had speculated might step down after the midterm elections, recently told Mr. Biden that she would stay.

Ms. Tenpas calculates Mr. Biden’s turnover in his most important positions at 40 percent in the first two years, far lower than the 66 percent turnover in the same period under Mr. Trump, although higher than other recent presidents, like Barack Obama, who saw just 24 percent in his first two years.

Still, few of those who left were at the senior-most level or part of the president’s inner circle, which has remained broadly intact. Mr. Biden’s overall turnover rate is higher than it would have been otherwise in part because of turmoil in Vice President Kamala Harris’s office, where staff members have come and gone with more frequency.

Other departures are anticipated, possibly after the president’s State of the Union address, scheduled for Feb. 7. Brian Deese, the president’s national economic adviser, is expected to leave later this year, while Cecilia Rouse is expected to leave her post as chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers to return to Princeton University.

Mr. Klain, 61, who grew up in Indiana, graduated from Georgetown and earned a law degree from Harvard, has now served under three presidents and brought more White House experience to his post than perhaps any of his predecessors. He was associate counsel to President Bill Clinton, counselor to Attorney General Janet Reno and then chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore. A central figure in Mr. Gore’s futile fight to win the election recount in Florida in 2000, Mr. Klain was later played by Kevin Spacey in the 2008 HBO film “Recount.”

Mr. Klain also worked for Mr. Biden’s Senate office and served as Mr. Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president before becoming Mr. Obama’s Ebola response coordinator. Altogether, he served under nine previous White House chiefs of staff. “I have worked for more White House chiefs of staff than any other White House chief of staff,” Mr. Klain once boasted.

In 2015, Mr. Klain enlisted with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign without waiting until Mr. Biden announced he was not running, an act that was seen as a betrayal by some in Biden world. In an email later made public, Mr. Klain even lamented that he was “dead to them,” meaning Mr. Biden’s circle. But several current and former Biden advisers said it is a testament to Mr. Klain’s strategic value that he worked his way back into the good graces of not only the president but also his wife, Jill Biden.

Mr. Klain has long been open that he expected to leave at the two-year mark, especially since the midterm elections. He told Chris Whipple, author of “The Fight of His Life,” a new book on Mr. Biden’s presidency published last Tuesday, that he was readying to depart at that point and predicted that his successor could be a woman, without naming her.

Officials said in recent days that it was not at all certain it will be a woman after all, however. But after the rough and tumble of his tenure, Mr. Klain took the midterm results as validation. “Maybe,” he wrote Mr. Whipple in an email at 1:16 a.m. on election night, “we don’t suck as much as people thought.”

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