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Top Biden aide Ron Klain expected to soon leave White House

by The Associated Press | January 22, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
FILE - White House chief of staff Ron Klain walks to the South Lawn of the White House to attend an event celebrating the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to reach the Supreme Court in Washington, April 8, 2022. Klain, who has spent more than two years as President Joe Biden's top aide, is preparing to exit his post in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)


REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) -- White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who has spent more than two years as President Joe Biden's top aide, is preparing to leave his job in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans.

Klain's expected departure comes not long after the White House and Democrats had a better-than-expected showing in the November elections, buoyed by a series of major legislative accomplishments, including a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a sweeping climate, health care and tax package that all Republicans rejected.

The personnel change is also a rarity for an administration that has had minimal turnover so far. No member of Biden's Cabinet has stepped down, in stark contrast to Donald Trump's White House, with frequent staff turmoil and other crises.

The person familiar with Klain's plans was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm the development, which was first reported by the New York Times.

The White House did not return calls or emails seeking comment on Klain's expected exit. Spending the weekend in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Biden did not respond to shouted questions about when his chief of staff is expected to depart.

Now that Republicans have regained a majority in the House, the White House is preparing to shift to a more defensive posture. GOP lawmakers are planning multiple investigations into the Biden administration, examining everything from the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to U.S. border policy. Republicans are also pledging to investigate the president's son, Hunter Biden.

Klain's departure also comes as the White House struggles to contain the fallout after classified documents dating from Biden's time as vice president were discovered at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at his former institute in Washington. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to investigate the matter.

Among those on the shortlist to succeed Klain include Steve Richetti, counselor to the president; Labor Secretary Marty Walsh; former White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; and Anita Dunn, a White House senior adviser.

Dunn has publicly ruled out interest in the chief of staff job but would be the first woman in the post. She played a leading role in shaping Biden's political and communications strategy, including the "ultra-MAGA" framing of Republicans that helped Democrats exceed expectations during the 2022 midterms.

Zients has returned to the White House since running the COVID-19 response team in a low-profile role to ensure the administration is appropriately staffed for the remainder of Biden's first term. Richetti, a former lobbyist, followed after Klain and senior adviser Bruce Reed as Biden's final vice presidential chief of staff.

Walsh, Boston's mayor before joining the Cabinet, earned praise from Biden as recently as Friday for his job performance. Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, is in his second stint as agriculture secretary after serving in the role for the entirety of the Obama administration. He volunteered for Biden during Biden's ill-fated 1988 presidential bid in Iowa.

Klain, a longtime Democratic political operative, has overseen a West Wing that has been largely free of the high-stakes drama that permeated the upper echelons of the Trump administration. Klain has been an outspoken proponent of Biden's agenda via Twitter, where he frequently engages with reporters to defend the president's record.

His social-media use has run Klain into trouble at times. In October, he was found to have violated the Hatch Act, which bars government officials from political activity when acting in their official capacity, when he retweeted a message from a political group last spring. At the time, the White House said Klain "got it wrong this time" and he promised to be more careful with his Twitter account.

The Indianapolis native has served under Biden for decades, including as chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Biden was its chairman. Klain also worked on judicial picks in the Clinton White House, helping with the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsberg for the Supreme Court.

"With all due respect to my predecessors, I'm sure this is a higher priority for me." Klain said in an Associated Press interview last month in which he discussed the importance placed by Biden of seating judges on the federal bench. "The fact that (the president) makes it such a priority, makes it a big priority for me."

Klain helped lead then-Vice President Al Gore's legal team during the 2000 election's Florida vote recount in the race against Republican George W. Bush. Actor Kevin Spacey portrayed Klain in HBO's "Recount," an account of the events that determined the presidency.

He was also tapped during the Obama administration to lead its response to the Ebola crisis -- a background that came in handy as the Biden White House took on the COVID-19 pandemic in the early months of his presidency.

  photo  FILE - White House chief of staff Ron Klain walks on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, May 1, 2022, in Washington. Klain, who has spent more than two years as President Joe Biden's top aide, is preparing to exit his post in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - White House chief of staff Ron Klain, right, and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra listen as President Joe Biden speaks about the southern border during a meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House, March 24, 2021, in Washington. Klain, who has spent more than two years as President Joe Biden's top aide, is preparing to exit his post in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - President Joe Biden talks with Counselor to the President Steve Ricchetti as they walk from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Dec. 23, 2022. Ricchetti is among those on the shortlist to succeed White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who is preparing to leave his job in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Labor Secretary Marty Walsh speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2022. Walsh is among those on the shortlist to succeed White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who is preparing to leave his job in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, April 13, 2021. Former White House COVID-19 response coordinator Zients is among those on the shortlist to succeed White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who is preparing to leave his job in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during a White House at the Ronald Reagan Building, Sept. 28, 2022, in Washington. Vilsack is among those on the shortlist to succeed White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who is preparing to leave his job in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Counselor to the President Steve Ricchetti attends the White House Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn of the White House, July 12, 2022, in Washington. Ricchetti is among those on the shortlist to succeed White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who is preparing to leave his job in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and Anita Dunn center, depart The Queen theatre in Wilmington, Del., Oct. 19, 2020. Dunn, a White House senior adviser, is among those on the shortlist to succeed White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who is preparing to leave his job in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with Klain's plans. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
 
 


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