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Biden chief of staff resigns as White House reels over documents scandal

By Sarah May
|
January 23, 2023

As the classified documents scandal surrounding President Joe Biden continues to heat up, word has emerged that White House chief of staff Ron Klain is poised to depart his position in the coming weeks, as Politico reports.

According to the Daily Mail, former administration COVID-19 coordinator and corporate business consultant Jeff Zients has already been tapped to replace Klain, though that decision has reportedly been met with criticism on both sides of the aisle.

Klain to depart

As Politico notes, Klain now holds the title for longest-serving chief of staff for any Democratic president in history, and despite earlier indications that his departure would have come earlier than next month, the better-than-expected results achieved by the party in the midterm elections reportedly prompted him to stay at his post a little longer.

Klain has been characterized as a workaholic who has lasted longer within the nonstop atmosphere of the White House than many would have expected, and, according to Fox Business host Larry Kudlow, he has also “allegedly been the mastermind” of the administration, “deeply involved in every single policy issue, calling the shots for the most part.”

However now that Republicans have reclaimed control of the House, the Biden administration is in the midst of a change in priorities, moving away from sweeping legislative agendas to dealing with a host of burgeoning GOP investigations and ramping up for a 2024 re-election campaign.

It has also been suggested that Klain's decision to leave the role he has held for two years is connected to the ongoing probe of Biden's handling of classified documents, with yet another batch of materials having been found at the president's Delaware home on Friday.

“Curious” timing?

While it is true that Klain has already exceeded the typical time frame for turnover in key administration roles, Kudlow suggested over the weekend that the timing of his departure announcement is “curious,” to say the least.

Appearing on Fox & Friends Weekend, Kudlow elaborated on his suspicions, saying, “It's odd to me that if the New York Times article that chief of staff Ron Klain is leaving, if that article is correct, the timing of all of this is so curious to me.”

“We learned late last night that the FBI was in the Wilmington House all day on Friday...[a]nd that's the reason that President Biden was going to go to Rehoboth,” Kudlow observed, later adding, “[Klain] has been a very key figure, and...I'm just saying it's curious that with this FBI latest, the FBI investigation of the classified documents, all of a sudden Ron Klain is announcing his retirement, if in fact, that's true.”

Taking issue what that assessment, however, was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who said that Klain's departure is emblematic of the relatively short “shelf life” of top White House officials in any administration, let alone one with as many challenges as the current one.

“People felt like that Ron Klain was really Ron Brain, he was the one that was running things,” Huckabee observed. “And if that's the case, and he had to also get the mop and broom and clean up after Joe's every moment at the podium, he's probably just ready to say, 'that's it, I'm done. I got to get out of here and get my life back together.'”

“So, I don't think this is tied to anything other than the typical normal cycle of a chief of staff after about 18 months to two years packing it up and doing something different,” Huckabee concluded.

Zients to take reins

Zients, the man selected to replace Klain in the White House, left his position as COVID-19 coordinator back in April after playing a key role in promoting vaccination and broadly steering the administration's response to the pandemic.

He then returned to the White House fold late last year to assist with anticipated turnover following the midterm elections, also taking on a variety of different projects at the behest of Klain, an arrangement seen by many as an intentional process gradually handing over the reins.

Despite his recent, high-profile experience inside the White House, not everyone is pleased with the appointment of Zients to the chief of staff job, with conservatives lambasting his alarmist stances during the pandemic, when he predicted that unvaccinated Americans were “looking at a winter of severe illness and death,” as Newsweek noted.

However, it is not just those on the right who are disappointed by Biden's choice, with a number of liberals such as Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project stepping up to blast Zients – whose personal fortune runs into the tens, perhaps even hundreds of millions of dollars – as a “predatory private equity executive.”

Kenneth Vogel of the New York Times wrote of Zients, “He built his wealth partly through healthcare companies that were forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle allegations of Medicare & Medicaid fraud.”

Failed New Jersey Democratic congressional candidate Imani Oakley suggested that decisions such as this one could ultimately prove problematic for the president in the eyes of the party's base, saying, “Can anyone explain to me what's progressive Biden's play on this one? I'm oh so sure there's a deeper plan here. A sort of greater good that just hasn't revealed itself out of D.C.” Whether that searing skepticism indeed proves accurate in the eyes of her fellow progressives, only time will tell.