Biden announces appointment of Jeff Zients to replace Ron Klain as chief of staff

Ex-director of White House’s COVID response and initial investor in DC Jew-ish deli ‘Call Your Mother’ becomes second successive member of Tribe to fill senior post

Jeff Zients speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware on December 8, 2020, to announce US President-elect Joe Biden's health care team. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Jeff Zients speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware on December 8, 2020, to announce US President-elect Joe Biden's health care team. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden on Friday announced the appointment of Jeff Zients to become the next White House chief of staff

Zients, who ran the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the start of Biden’s term, will be the president’s second straight Jewish chief of staff, replacing Ron Klain, who has held the position since Biden entered office.

The 56-year-old DMV-region native was an initial investor in the Call Your Mother bagel cafe in Washington, which he reportedly lobbied to be called Apples and Honey. He divested his shares before joining the administration in 2021. He has also served as chairman of the Children’s National Hospital in Washington.

He will be the sixth Jewish American to serve as White House chief of staff, joining Klain, Rahm Emanuel and Jack Lew from the Obama administration, Joshua Bolten from George W. Bush’s administration and Ken Duberstein from the Regan administration, according to The Forward.

Zients, who served as vice chairman of Biden’s transition operation after his November 2020 election, brings significant managerial expertise in government and the private sector. He was the director of the National Economic Council during the Obama administration and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

He became known for leading that administration’s effort to repair after the bungled initial rollout of the site in the fall of 2013. Zients also was a top executive at the Advisory Board Company, a Washington consulting firm.

US Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks during the White House Build America Investment Initiative roundtable, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. with National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients to his right (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Zients succeeds Klain, a longtime fixture in Biden’s political orbit who led the White House through its highs — passage of consequential legislation like the massive infrastructure bill and the Democrats’ climate, health care and tax law, as well as dozens of judges confirmed in the first two years — as well as its lows, such as the rocky withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The transition is the first major personnel change for an administration that has had minimal turnover at its highest ranks and throughout the cabinet.

“I’m confident that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership, as we continue to work hard every day for the people we were sent here to serve,” Biden said in a statement, adding that Zients, like Klain, “understands what it means to lead a team” and “is as focused on getting things done.”

Zients will be tasked with shepherding White House operations at Biden’s pivotal two-year mark when the Democratic administration shifts from ambitious legislating to implementing those policies and fending off Republican efforts to defang the achievements. Zients (pronounced ZY’-ents) is also charged with steering the White House at a time when it is struggling to contain the fallout from discoveries of classified documents at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at his former institute in Washington, which has triggered a special counsel investigation.

“I respect him enormously,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who spoke regularly with Zients during his stint as COVID-19 response coordinator, said this week. “He’s a very bright guy. I expect to be able to communicate with him.”

Yet those business ties have already spurred criticism of the Zients selection from some on the left, who have blasted the incoming chief of staff for his private sector background. Progressives are anticipating a shift from Klain, who regularly tended to that ideological wing of the party and retained close ties with liberal lawmakers.

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