91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden Names Longtime Aide Ron Klain As White House Chief Of Staff

Ron Klain was also Joe Biden's chief of staff when he was vice president.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
Ron Klain was also Joe Biden's chief of staff when he was vice president.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday

President-elect Joe Biden has named his longtime aide Ron Klain to be White House chief of staff, the campaign announced Wednesday evening.

The chief of staff is one of the most significant White House appointments.

An alumnus of the Obama-Biden administration, Klain had previously been Biden's chief of staff when he was vice president.

"Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014," Biden said in a statement.

Biden's choice of Klain points to the team's focus on immediately trying to tackle dual crises: the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed about 240,000 people in the United States so far, as well as the economic recovery. Klain helped shepherd the 2009 Recovery Act as Biden's chief of staff, and then in 2014 he was appointed the Obama administration's Ebola czar.

"His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again," Biden added in the statement.

Biden has repeatedly accused President Trump of fumbling the nation's pandemic response and has vowed to lead the country with a scientific approach to slowing the virus's spread.

Klain, as a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, was particularly instrumental in its coronavirus messaging. He recorded an explanatory video in front of a white board that ended up being one of the campaign's most popular videos on social media platforms as it transitioned to a mostly digital operation during the early days of the pandemic.

Klain also worked as an adviser on Biden's unsuccessful 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and as a top aide to Biden in the '80s and '90s on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a statement, Klain described his appointment as White House chief of staff as "the honor of a lifetime."

He continued: "I look forward to helping [Biden] and the Vice President-elect assemble a talented and diverse team to work in the White House, as we tackle their ambitious agenda for change, and seek to heal the divides in our country."

"He knows Ron and Ron knows him," said Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff to former President Barack Obama. "That trust level is essential. When Ron Klain goes up to [Capitol] Hill, everybody knows he's speaking for Joe Biden."

But Emanuel said Klain brings more than trust to the job; he brings experience and familiarity in navigating the White House and various agencies.

"From the day you get elected, the sand starts running through the sundial," Emanuel said. "And you can't afford ... to lose any days in on-the-job training, especially with all the crises."

When Emanuel was Obama's chief of staff, the administration had to deal with the financial crisis and the auto bailout. But now, he says, the country is dealing with multiple simultaneous crises.

Added Denis McDonough, who served as Obama's chief of staff from 2013 to 2017: "None of these decisions is easy, but the way you make hard decisions is that you tee them up transparently, and that really falls on the chief of staff. That happens to play to one of Ron's real strengths."

NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow contributed reporting.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: November 11, 2020 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier headline mistakenly said Ron Klain would be White House chief of staff in 2020. He will assume the post in 2021.
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.