President Biden has selected Jeff Zients as his next chief of staff, choosing his former COVID-19 response coordinator to take over from Ron Klain, who is preparing to leave the White House sometime after the State of Union address on Feb. 7.
The transition comes 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 news of the shift came on a weekend rocked by the extraordinary revelation that the FBI had spent more than 12 hours going through Biden’s personal belongings in his Wilmington, Del., home, finding more classified documents.
A special counsel probe into the classified documents found in Biden’s personal files — some from his years as vice president, others dating back to his time as a senator — is one of the immediate challenges that will face the White House as Zients takes over.
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.
Zients will manage the White House as Biden weighs whether to make good on his intention to seek a second term in office, and as the White House prepares to face a series of congressional investigations 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.
Zients also helped the Obama White House manage a crisis
Biden’s pick of Zients, first reported by The Washington Post, was confirmed by two sources familiar with the decision who spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House has not yet commented on the upcoming departure of Klain. The exact date for the transition is not clear.
Zients, an early hire on Biden’s transition team, developed the strategy unveiled on Inauguration Day to get Americans vaccinated for COVID-19. He led the response until April 2022, and has close ties to Biden’s other top advisers and cabinet members.
A management consultant before he entered public service during the Obama administration, Zients was the acting head of the Office Management and Budget when he was pulled in to the push to fix the healthcare.gov website in 2013.
Zients told author Chris Whipple for his new book The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House that being able to deliver on plans is key. “A lot of time, energy and creativity go into making policy, whether that’s legislation or executive action,” Zients said in the book. “But sometimes in government, not enough time and energy and creativity go into execution.”